There are many ways leaders can be good leaders but for me, this is the most basic. Good leaders have their employees’ backs. Although I am certain I have been on the receiving end of such acts many times in my career, there is one time that sticks out above the rest. A time when I worked for a leader who not only knew the theory of leadership but how to put it into practice every single day.
I had been tasked with completing two deliverables in time for the next management meeting. For various (and undoubtedly very good!) reasons, by the time the next meeting rolled around I had only finished one of them.
I knew my boss’ boss would be asking for an update in front of all of my peers and I was mortified that I had fallen short. I called my boss prior to our meeting and explained the situation. He reassured me and told me he would take care of it.
After the preliminary niceties were done, the Director called on me. Literally before I could open my mouth, Barry jumped in and said: “Moyra will update us on project A but I’ve asked her to do some further work on project B and follow up at the next meeting”.
My sense of relief was immediate and my gratitude was heartfelt. I have never forgotten the feeling of security I was left with knowing that no matter what, I could count on him. In that moment, Barry was assured of my loyalty.
Although the following example falls into my definition of a bad leadership practice, I do feel the need to qualify this example. I happen to know the person in question to be a good and caring person. She has been a second level manager for more than a decade and she does have many leadership qualities. Sadly though, this particular trait is so pervasive that it overshadows her strengths and has resulted in many employees leaving her team and much frustration for those who have stayed.
“Joanne” is to put it simply, very high strung. Her office is stacked to the rafters with piles of papers, binders and boxes. Her way of being is to speak quickly. She takes on more tasks than she is able to complete in a day and as a result, works well into the night, every night. Everything about her surroundings and the ways she shows up screams chaos.
The result for her team you ask? They are exhausted. Irritated. Resentful. They don’t often get time with her and when they do, she is visibly distracted.
Her lack of self awareness (and sadly apparent lack of feedback from her boss and her direct reports) has meant it appears she has no idea of the effect of her behaviour, choices and actions on those around her.
Good leaders set the tone and create a climate for their employees. Employees want and need to feel like their boss is calm and in control. Of course, even great leaders are allowed an off day. But that needs to be the exception, not the rule.
So what does ugly look like? Well, Kouzes and Posner have articulated “The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” and the first of these is Model the Way. The surest way to demotivate employees is to have a boss whose modus operandi is do as I say, not as I do.
A client told me about a CEO she once reported to. In her organization, everyone was required to wear a pass and security staff at each entrance were instructed to verify them. It mattered not that you could have worked there five years and walked in and out twice a day and be greeted by name by the security person. Everyone had to show their pass.
This new CEO had been with the organization for about six months when one day, he attempted to enter the building without showing his pass. When requested to show it, he blew a gasket and uttered those now famous words: “Don’t you know who I am?”
The impact of those six little words were far-reaching. The story spread the organization like wildfire as this man’s true colours began to shine through. When he left the organization 18 months later, nine people showed up at his goodbye party.
What does your daily leadership practice look like? A few moments of reflection and taking stock at the end of each day will go a long way in ensuring you have more good than bad and ugly moments!