“Help, I don’t know what to do!” was the desperate plea on the other end of a phone call I received six months ago. My first thought was, “Who got shot?” But as the story unfolded I was able to relax and not worry about dialing 911.
The anxious voice on the line was a young person, recently promoted to lead a small organization. This first real leadership position had been created to turn around the morale and attitude of an established group of employees.
After talking the newby off the ledge, I learned the source of the problem and we began to identify ways to work through the challenges. In the months since that initial frantic call, things are heading in the right direction, despite the proverbial bumps in the road.
From that call and several that followed, I pieced together some thoughts about leadership they don’t tell you in business school, but would be useful to know before stepping into a leadership role. In debatable order, here are things they forgot to tell you in leadership school.
• Not everyone will like you. For personality types who are pleasers, this is one of the toughest hurdles to overcome when new to leadership. New leaders quickly learn that you can’t please everyone and that being a leader looked a lot easier from the “sidelines.” While leaders can do their best to be pleasant and easy to work with, it is impossible to be liked by everyone you lead. If you can’t deal with haters, you may want to consider a different job.
• It is better to be respected than liked. While it may not be possible to have everyone like you, it is possible to have everyone respect you. You gain the respect of your peers and team members by being consistent and true to your word, by treating people with respect, by having empathy for those in need of it, and most importantly, by being ethical in all of your dealings.
• Micromanagers suck. If you can’t trust the people you hired to do their jobs without constantly looking over their shoulders, you have no business being a leader. Countless studies prove that micromanagers kill productivity and passion for a job. The sad thing about micromanagers is they are often covering up for their own feelings of inadequacy and they don’t even recognize what they are doing.
• Promote the team. Great sports coaches take credit for their teams’ failures and give the team all of the credit for the successes. The best leaders adopt that principle and put the team above everything else.
When things go sideways, as they often do, confident leaders step up and shoulder the responsibility. After the crisis is over there may be some private conversations about what happened and things to fix, but those discussions are done behind closed doors — not in public.
• Make communication and trust your bedrock principles. I recently had an employee come up to me after a meeting and question several decisions that were made during the discussion. I realized that I had the background information in my head and didn’t communicate it effectively to the team. After filling in the blanks, the employee left the discussion feeling much better about what we were doing. The point is that the employee trusted me enough to approach me with a serious question and I trusted our relationship enough to admit my error. Trust is hard to gain, but once in place is more precious than gold.
I spoke recently to a group of leaders from a local company, who all agreed that leadership is a learned art. Through our discussion we decided the first hurdle to overcome in becoming a great leader is to understand yourself and what you are good at.
Each of us possess some level of leadership ability. Leadership comes more naturally to some and others have to work at it, but it can be very rewarding to see those around you experience success. In the end it boils down to one of my favorite leadership sayings: “I can’t be all I can be, until you become all you can be.”
Jeff Hough is a business author, blogger and speaker in Pocatello.