Leading Successfully = Growing Your People to Be All That They Can Be

April 10, 2019  |   Coaching,Leadership,People Skills   |     |   0 Comment

Not too long ago I had lunch with a young manager who has loads of potential; she’s smart, brings great positive energy to all she does, is hardworking and eager to learn, takes feedback with a mindset to improve as opposed to having hurt feelings and is collaborative and supportive with her colleagues. What more can you ask for? In my view, she is the employee most organizations would want to mentor, coach, train and support to take on more and more senior leadership roles and responsibilities within the organization.

During our conversation she mentioned she had recently met with her “big” boss (one of the members of the executive team). It was a get to know you meeting where executive members meet with employees within their lines of business, assessing talent, responding to questions from the employees and providing insight and advice. I asked her what she had learned and I had to bite my tongue and take a deep breath after she explained the executive member told her that her number one responsibility was to make her supervisor look good. I too was told that 19 years ago when I started in the corporate world. Seriously, I was stunned back then but I have to say I was even more astounded to hear this in 2018!!

I believe the number one responsibility as an employee is to serve the organization, and my number one responsibility as a leader is to serve that organization through effectively leading the people. With all that we know about engaging, retaining, motivating and successfully leading others how can senior – very senior – leaders still be advising our leaders of the future that their number one responsibility is to make their supervisor look good? How is it that this mindset is still being perpetuated? I’m not sure about you, but I don’t know too many employees of any generation that are motivated or engaged by this leadership philosophy. Most employees I know are highly critical of such old school thinking.

I love the following input provided by NFL coach Pete Carroll to Brene Brown during an interview she did with him when researching for her book Braving The Wilderness; The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. When asked about the challenges of developing an organizational culture of true belonging Pete Carroll provided the following thoughts…

“There is no question that it’s easier to manage a “fitting-in” culture. You set standards and rules. You lead by “put up or shut up.” But you miss real opportunities – especially helping your team members find their purpose. When you push a fitting-in-culture you miss the opportunity to help people find their personal drive – what’s coming from their hearts. Leading for true belonging is about creating a culture that celebrates uniqueness. What serves leaders best is understanding your players’ best efforts. My job as a leader is to identify their unique gifts or contributions. A strong leader pulls players toward a deep belief in themselves” (Pg. 108).

As a developing manager in 2002, I went to my supervisor and asked for the opportunity to have some direct reports because I knew this was a necessary experience for future leadership roles. Job postings all indicated staff supervision was required for more advanced management positions and I was intent on moving up the corporate ladder so it made sense to get some experience in staff supervision. Really, how hard can it be? Boy was I in for an awakening as I stepped into the supervisor role. Not only did I now need to deliver on my own work which already consumed all my time, I was additionally responsible for a team of people and was expected to communicate effectively (whatever that meant), deal with conflict between staff (ugh, do I have to), ensure work was distributed in a manner perceived fair (a totally subjective concept depending on where one sits on the matter), learn the skill of delegating (yes, this is a learned skill and required learning to transition effectively from doer to leader), managing performance (managing good performance…piece of cake; managing poor performance…ah this is uncomfortable), mentor people, coach people, etc. I quickly realized that I knew little about leading others and this was way more complicated than I ever imagined. Like many middle managers I walked into these people responsibilities with little formal management or leadership training from within the organization. The old saying…”sink or swim”…was indeed applicable!

Quickly, I took up an interest in learning about leadership so that I could begin to understand how to effectively lead others; I started reading books and taking more and more training to deepen my understanding. Light bulb moment!! Developing strong leadership skills begins with understanding oneself. How am I showing up? The tendency is to look outside of ourselves, to look at the other as the problem or the source that needs to change. What I learned was that I needed to grow and change, that great leaders recognize their primary purpose is to serve others and to serve the greater good, not to serve themselves.

Believe me I am not naïve, I know such leaders are rare. I can say however, that I have personally experienced great leadership and working with a great leader was truly transformational for me in believing in myself and my potential both as an employee and as a leader. I was so lucky to have a great leader as my supervisor early in my leading people experiences. She taught me how to serve the organization through empowering her people; through her behaviours she showed me the impact a leader can have in creating engaged, empowered and trusted employees. This one leader impacted my career and my belief in the ‘power’ of good leadership immensely. Oh and by the way, never once did she suggest that as her employee my primary responsibility was to make her look good; but I can tell you we did make her look good because we were treated as professionals deserving of her respect and kindness and in turn, you bet, we supported her needs as a leader to serve the needs of the organization.

I will close with six points I support wholeheartedly as laid out by James A. Autry author of the Servant Leader (Pg. 20-21):

  • Leadership is not about controlling people; it is about caring for people and being a resource for people.
  • Leadership is not about being the boss; it’s about being present for people and building community at work.
  • Leadership is not about holding on to territory, it’s about letting go of ego, bringing your spirit to work, being your best and most authentic self.
  • Leadership is less concerned with pep talks and more concerned with creating a place in which people can do good work, can find meaning in their work, and can bring their spirits to work.
  • Leadership, like life, is largely a matter of paying attention.
  • Leadership requires love.

If you are currently leading others, how do you show up with regard to these six points?

Feeling really brave? Have this conversation with your employees.

If you are close to or new to taking on people leading responsibilities, I highly recommend seeking coaching support to gain personal insight into your leadership style, preferences and beliefs. Additionally, I highly suggest looking for mentoring opportunities with leaders you know are strong in people leading skills and behaviours. Mentoring can provide guidance and support as you step into leading others. Leading others is not easy work, but it is without a doubt rewarding work when you come from the place of serving others to grow into their best selves as people and as leaders.

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