When it comes to leadership, I’ve witnessed scenarios in lots of different companies. I tend to see more “what not to do” than “I should adopt this”. It’s also rare to run into a founder that is a great leader, and finding a manager who also knows how to lead can be like finding a needle in a haystack. You tend to notice the not-so-good people who try to be in leadership roles and overlook ones who are good at it.
This got me thinking about 2 distinctively different managers I’ve worked with, one who owned their own small business, the other who was high up the chain of a corporation and both great leaders in their own right. These are my thoughts about what made them great, which, unfortunately for me, I only recognized in hindsight after our work together was done.
Listen and Guide
Anyone who is a strong manager can tell you, we like to solve problems, clear roadblocks and keep things moving forward. However that doesn’t mean you should jump in and fix every problem for your employees (or coworkers). Being a good listener and offering guidance with options can go far in earning respect and loyalty. The woman manager I worked with at one of my corporate jobs was great at this. She would willingly spend the time to walk through various (task/job related) decision scenarios with you allowing you to feel as though you had enough information options to make a decision. Only at rare times, when she thought we were completely off the mark would she challenge the answer you had arrived at.
Empower and Encourage
The owner I worked with at his small business was always full of encouragement. His motto was “how do you know something won’t work unless you try it”? Even when one of us would make a mistake (invariably costing the company money), while he wouldn’t be pleased, most times he would ask us what we learned and what we could do better/differently next time. Occasionally, it meant a change of company process, which he appreciated as it meant we (his employees) were thinking critically about how his business was running.
Keep Calm and Set Direction
Crappy things happen in business all the time, we know this, we’ve been there. Everyone gets upset at some time. Raising your voice, threatening retribution or (in one case) throwing your computer monitor out the window, isn’t helping anyone. In times of uncertainty and change, your employees are looking for guidance and reassurance, and a plan to move forward. Both managers I mention have this quality and portrayed it in different ways – one was quietly stoic about an issue and the other bluntly would come out with “yes, this sucks right now, but here’s my plan for getting us through this”.
Recognize sometimes your team needs a break
Teams come together with common goals. They’re loyal to you, they work hard to accomplish what you need. Recognizing when they’re on the brink of breaking down, or extended extra effort to achieve a deliverable and acting to create some downtime or breather space for your team allows everyone to recharge and refocus. One manager would accomplish this by taking our team out for extended afternoon lunches on her corporate card, the other would surprise us with afternoons off (paid).
There’s no fast and hard rule about what creates great leadership, leaders inherently inspire confidence, are looked up to by their peers and sought out in times of challenge.
Who are some of the strong leaders you’ve worked with?