Before I begin any workplace engagement, I ask the person informing me of the problem one important question:
“If I determine that you are at the core of some of these issues, how do you want me to tell you?” I ask this because problems do not happen in isolation. Very commonly, they trickle down from the top. From leadership missteps to flaws in the organizational structure. My role, as I see it, is not just helping the individuals, but the company as a whole.
From this vantage point, I have learned a lot about the characteristics that make a good leader, and about those well-intentioned qualities that sometimes undermine growth and success.
Here is what all leaders should know:
Leaders should be visionaries – Look ahead at what is coming, determine where the organization is heading; Great leaders must be reflexive and able to pivot and adjust as situations emerge – both internally and externally. Whether it is adjusting to market fluctuations or acknowledging a gap in training or technology, a great leader takes swift action to rectify a problem and funds a budget that can support unforeseen demands.
Leave people issues to your managers – Nothing undermines organizational stability more than a leader who inserts him/herself into staffing issues. It undermines the authority of your managers, disrupts the process of addressing behavioral issues, and leads to claims of favoritism and unfair work practices.
Keep connected with your staff – on a macro-level. Instead of having an “open-door” policy (which invites complaints that belong at the manager level) make a habit of walking through your office, getting to know your staff, and learning what is/isn’t helping them to get the job done. Your focus is on the organization, and your staff is the first to know if an initiative isn’t working. Engage with them for the purpose of making the company better.
Recognize the impact of employee morale – While leaders need to stay out of the fray, they must also support initiatives that help or engage their employees. If employees are championing a measure – do what you can to support it. This may mean investing in training, supporting team development, or bringing in a consultant to resolve conflicts that are undermining communication or productivity. Be aware that budget constraints are rarely seen by employees as an acceptable reason for stalling on these efforts. They will quickly look to other expenditures that should be cut. Address their concerns in a fashion that demonstrates their value to you and the organization – the return on your investment will be palpable.
Set a positive and inspirational tone – for the whole team. At regular intervals (preferably at an all-staff meeting) share the direction of the company, and what is expected of them to make the vision a reality. Every member of your team should recognize their importance and contribution to the company’s success, and should feel motivated to help the company get there.
Model honesty – Owning mistakes and taking responsibility for making things better is vital to long-term success. Modeling this behavior – whether acknowledging a venture didn’t go as planned, or that lay-offs will be necessary – isn’t easy, but it goes a very long way toward creating accountability and shared responsibility for success. By humbly owning your mistakes, you demonstrate the importance of this virtue while also silently encouraging your team to inform you if they foresee problems on the horizon.