I often wonder what people in leadership positions think their jobs are all about. Isn’t leadership about bringing out the very best in other people? Yet, according to Talent Management magazine, while nearly 60 percent of employees think their direct supervisors are effective at managing, 53 percent aren’t confident in their leadership (or people) skills.
Sandra, a senior program manager in charge of a 250-million-dollar contract, was planning to fire her administrative assistant, Lucy. “She can’t get the job done, even on simple projects,” Sandra complained to me. “She can’t handle anything to do with computers or file structures. She can’t think for herself and needs confirmation at every step. I leave her no room for error; yet, she still manages to mess it up.”
“Maybe she’s not in the right job,” I suggested. “Does she do any of her work well?”
“She’s good at working the helpdesk. But I need my team members to do the work they’re paid to do.”
I asked Sandra if she had asked Lucy about her career goals, and she quickly responded, “She would be perfectly fine doing nothing in her current position!”
“Lucy said that to you?” I asked.
“Well, no, but based on her performance, I assume … Listen, she gets paid to do a job.”
“What’s your job, Sandra?”
“To manage this project and make sure everybody does their jobs.”
This is exactly how the vast majority of managers lead, completely forgetting that their team members need someone to help them gain opportunities, believe in them, provide feedback, communicate the company’s vision, and support their personal and professional growth. Rather than address this reality, many employers just get rid of “the problem.”
“The ‘problem’ will find you again,” I told Sandra. “You can either fire everyone who doesn’t get it, or you can lead your people.”
Here’s Sandra’s new approach:
Step 1: Choose to lead. Like many, Sandra hadn’t recognized her responsibility to positively affect the careers (and lives) of her team members. She was managing processes rather than leading people.
Step 2: Get curious. A leader’s job is to help people grow, and that requires getting curious about who they are and asking questions about how and why they want to grow. Rather than assuming struggling employees don’t want to improve, ask about their career aspirations and the skills or experiences they would like to gain.
Step 3: Give them something to live up to. It’s amazing what a few kind words can do to change someone’s perspective. Two weeks after winning the state championship in shot-put, I got a letter from the governor of Colorado thanking me for my leadership in the community. I couldn’t believe it. Just a few years prior, I was receiving letters from the court system. Though I cleaned up my act when I began competing, I was still a selfish athlete, only concerned with winning. After getting this praise, I had something far more powerful to live up to. I began supporting my teammates and even gave my competitors some tips.
Step 4: Keep growing. Becoming a more effective leader requires constant learning. Yet, most are “too busy” to keep improving and evolving. Reading even a chapter a day of a personal-development book and testing out what you learn will help you empower others. I recommended Sandra read Leadership From the Inside Out by Kevin Cashman. Other winners include: The Answer by John Assaraf and All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin.
Above all, remember that when you are in a position to influence others, your job is to serve them. As John C. Maxwell says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of Hidden Heroes and From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations