Leadership roles, whether small or large, are challenging and usually demand more of one than any other singular position. The buck always seems to end up on the manager or executive’s desk when it doesn’t get handled by anyone else, thus defying the age old adage that sh-.. rolls downhill. However, to make one’s life easier, with less gray hairs, late nights, upset staff and the other myriad of troubles which can befall any executive or management position, individually or collectively as a body, I offer up these observations for use in smoother sailing. In my nearly three decades working in the field of human resources in America, lecturing and training and providing motivational talks, I would say that these four elements are critical for any manager, executive or leader, or management body collectively speaking.
LOOK! – DON’T LISTEN
When someone complains about an employee or when you hear “bad news” or rumor, something that makes you doubt the value of someone’s suitability for employment under your care, ALWAYS and ONLY evaluate that employee’s performance based on STATISTICS and PRODUCTIVITY, and NOTHING else. If you do it any other way, if you operate on opinion, hearsay, rumor, unsubstantiated reports or bias, you are committing injustice and lending your name to the disrespect accorded to “management” people who don’t care. There is so much injustice in the field of employee performance-evaluation and sudden dismissals based on wrong criteria, that it would sink a million Titanic ships. This is one of the MOST violated rules of good and sensible management in fact, and one which I have witnessed repeatedly over the years.
Quality personnel, people who are trying to do their job, are usually also mentally measuring their own performance. They are trying to push the numbers, increase results, and as such, they are happy when they do so because that means they are on the right track. You want people like this, people who are motivated and are driven to improve their performance. Whether it the secretary who simply tries to do better by small increments, or the salesman who pushes his numbers up, it’s the same concept. Judge employees on what they DO, and what they ACCOMPLISH, not by what others say about them and abstain at dismissing people who have increasing productivity or a solid background of doing their job as shown in STATISTICS. I mean, very literally, look at their statistical graphs or trends, is it increasing? Is it flat or going down? Don’t listen to the complaints or the allegations because none of that means anything until you LOOK at what they are doing.
Besides, the job of a manager is not to sit in his or her office and listen to people. Successful management follows a time-worn and proven process of INSPECTING, OBSERVING, EVALUATING what one sees and then ISSUING MANDATES to improve or fix things and then SUPERVISING those mandates through to completion. It’s a five step process. The FIRST step is LOOKING for oneself.
There’s always two sides to every story, and I have made the fatal error myself of disciplining someone, even firing them, based on “reliable” information fed to me. I had to pay the price, live with the guilt or fix the consequent mess I caused to other people’s lives.
Small companies or tightly run operations sometimes get cliquish about who is “ok” or not and they can develop tacit rules of acceptability by which they judge their peers or employees. One of the worst executives I ever saw had a nasty habit of pointing the finger at employees every time things went wrong, accusing someone of “not being up to company standards” and insisting that dismissal was in order. The company eventually went bankrupt. It’s very treacherous waters for an executive to engage in this form of “management” which really amounts to a lighter form of witch-hunting.
It’s terribly easy to fall into this trap as a manager, listening to someone you believe, someone who complains about an employee and who sours your attitude about that person. I have seen very good people, who produced well, who were let go because of internal rumors and cabal spread about them by other employees or managers. And every time this happened, the error was a failure from management level to inspect actual performance. Surprisingly, actual inspection often reveals that “facts” have been exaggerated and if one inspects the source of such rumors or reports, one might be surprised to find that the source has a far weaker leg to stand on.
The rule is simple. By operating on raw facts, statistical results, productivity and nothing else, omitting the opinions, the rumor, your personal likes or dislikes and the false accusations levelled at people, you will make a work environment where the productive people can grow and expand within the company with a sense of security about their jobs. This applies to a nation as well. A government which fails to interact with and LISTEN to its citizens, which acts on false reports, rumor and NOT facts or truth, and which does not dish out proper justice, is a government that will soon have revolt and rebellion on its hands, because people will take matters into their own hands.
CREATE JOB SECURITY
Create an ambience in your area or zone of responsibility as a manager or executive, where job security is assured as long as people do their jobs. And as long as they do so, then don’t harangue them about other shortcomings. If they like to post pictures of Mickey Mouse on their desktop computer or their tattoo violates your personal sense of aesthetic, do NOT ever use that to judge them, overtly or covertly. Respect and treat employees based on what they DO, not by their appearance, sexual orientation, their character or whatever. This will create job security. It sends out a message that management follows only ONE policy – PERFORMANCE. That is a very black and white message and it sets the rules clearly for employees, and they like that. They can live with that because they know what to expect on the game-field. Start calling them on other things, giving them penalties for things they didn’t expect, talk behind their backs or treat them disrespectfully and you will set in motion an ambience of insecurity. Your staff or employees will begin to question their job security under your command, and instead of focusing on the future, achieving goals or just doing a better job, they will be planning how to jump ship and go somewhere they are appreciated and where the rules of the game are consistent.
INSPIRE YOUR PEOPLE
While there are other criteria which measure leadership effectiveness, none the least of which is financial viability, which Boards of Directors will underscore as the bottom line, it nevertheless is an observational fact, based on historical precedence, that the BEST leaders, the truly loved ones, those who accomplished the most positive change, were those who INSPIRED others.
My 6th grade teacher was a humble and quiet man – barely stood out in the pack of other teachers, except for one thing. He inspired us to stay the course, to become better and he worked silent magic over me (and probably others as well) because his attitude and his positive approach imbued us with the belief that we could be better, bigger and that our dreams were right there to take. Nelson Mandela, the man who liberated South Africa of oppressive apartheid, did so after spending 27 years in prison for his belief that his nation must be a nation of equals, not blacks and whites. He wasn’t up on a podium swaying the masses. He changed an entire nation largely from his prison cell because he believed in people. That is inspiration and that is TRUE leadership.
In your own way, as a leader, executive, manager or supervisor, inspire people around you. Maybe it is as simple as acknowledging them for a job well done, or encouraging them to step-up their numbers by just ONE. I had a boss once who did this to me. He passed by my office every once in a while, smiled and raised his finger, encouraging me to get ONE more client. When I actually did it, when I actually got that ONE, I went and told him and he was happier than a pig in mud, and so was I. And what’s interesting is that I wanted to work for that guy, because he inspired me to keep going.
This does not mean that you will always lead with a smile on your face. Sometimes you have to lay down the law with someone, call them on the carpet, demand that things get better, but that is not the rule of leadership and the higher platform remains as above. In the long run, you will make far greater strides with people by inspiring them to reach for another star, than you ever will by sticking a sword to their backsides.
This last point of how to hold onto good employees could be your toughest hurdle as a manager, executive or leader. HUMILITY. Most management bodies I have dealt with in my career have, to one degree or another, lacked this merit. And because of that, they lost good staff, lost the loyalty of people who could have made a major contribution to the company, group or nation. Contrary to popular beliefs or ideology, management is there to manage, not to dictate. There is a difference. When one leads or manages people, individually or as a collective, one must listen to and deal with the realities of what THEY are faced with. I am not suggesting a couch-and-patient perspective, with maudlin gestures of sympathy. Proper management is a constant process of inspecting, observing, evaluating what one observes and then issuing the correct mandates and seeing those mandates through. It is NOT a matter of issuing mandates and expecting people to follow your orders whether they want to or not. That is called dictatorship and if you want that level of operation in your company then don’t call it a company, call it for what it is. But if you are to be a good and responsive management body, then get a sense of humility about your operation. Don’t be so arrogant that you cannot listen to and accept the perspectives, complaints and suggestions of employees below you. Humility does not mean that you have to bow down from your position – but it is the willingness to listen and to admit that you don’t know everything and that maybe others know something that you don’t. Take a look at tremendously successful companies of our contemporary times and you will find that the truly successful ones do have this built into their operation, to one degree or another. Their management encourages people to speak up and they LISTEN and if there is value in it, they concede to the suggestions. There is nothing worse than working for an arrogant management level that does not accept but only dictates, because that is an impossible environment for strong capable people with initiative and with goals, people with a mind and with perspectives, to grow. When you’re at the top, it is easy to look down the command channels of the organization and to engender an attitude of “them and us”. Skip that, divest yourself of this false sense of separation and stay tuned to what your staff are saying and thinking. You don’t have to agree with everything and you certainly don’t even have to make changes based on everything that comes your way – but you MUST be willing to listen and change.