Susan stood there eyeing the trash receptacles with disgust and trepidation. The dinner rush had been particularly busy that night and all six of the large trash cans were overflowing. Emptying the bins, with their soggy, putrid contents was the least desirable job at the fast-food restaurant- a job normally pawned off onto the most recently hired member of the crew. I was the manager on duty that night and saw Susan’s hesitance to approach the trash cans. I quickly put on a pair of gloves and walked out into the lobby to join her. Together we were able to quickly rid ourselves of the stinking piles of trash, and get a few laughs in along the way.
I have always studied those around me, and even as a teenager I had noticed that there are two types of people above you in the hierarchy: leaders and bosses.
A boss tells an employee what to do and walks away expecting them to do it. To a boss, it does not matter if the job is fun or not. You are the employee and expected to do your job, go do it.
A leader explains why a task is important and helps their team members get comfortable with the task. A leader is not afraid to get into the trenches with a member of their team, roll up their sleeves, and get into the dirty work.
A leader is a Role Model.
Your team is always watching you and will take on and amplify your characteristics, for better or worse. It is vitally important, therefore, to be a good role model for your team. Model the characteristics you would like to see in your team and your team will reflect them back to you.
The following are 11 characteristics of leaders I have studied, that I have found important to the success of my teams.
Many of the day to day tasks we encounter while performing our jobs are mundane, some distasteful. Projects go sideways, and clients can be demanding, but it is our job as leaders to inspire our teams to keep moving forward.
A few years ago I was called in to help a project that was “on fire.” The client was a regional bank and the project manager from the bank had made their lives difficult. Team morale was at an all-time low. Nobody wanted to work on the project anymore, and even the fellow who was leading the project, normally a positive guy, had fallen into the negativity trap. I knew something had to happen, and quickly, or we risked losing the project, leaving a negative view of our company unresolved, and potentially losing team members from our own company. As I examined the state of the project I realized it was a lot closer to the finish line than either side realized. I was able to inspire the team to finish well by showing them how near to the goal they were, and why what they were doing was so vital to the success of the bank’s future.
You inspire people best by linking them to why what they do matters.
It is inevitable, we all get angry. We must understand how to control that anger, rather than let it control us.
My favorite leaders to work for have had an uncanny ability to channel their anger into something productive, often analyzing the situation and coming up with win-win solutions. Though I am far from perfect, I have found that staying calm when I just want to be angry has helped boost team effectiveness. My team even jokingly gave me a “smooth as a baby’s bottom” award for being cool under pressure!
Make a plan now as to how you will handle situations that anger you in the future
Do not wait, make a plan now as to how you will handle situations that anger you in the future. Proactive planning will help you understand and manage situations properly when they arise.
It is easy to be positive in the good times, but if you are not alert to it, negativity can quickly creep in. Negativity is one of the fastest ways to destroy your team. Be ever vigilant and guard against its encroachment in your team.
Staying positive when things are gloomy can be a difficult endeavor. I have been accused of being a “silver lining guy”, meaning that I can find good in any situation. I highly recommend that you also become a person who is constantly looking for silver linings.
Find the positive and use it to inspire those around you. I promise you, there is always a silver lining to every dark cloud!
Look at them when you converse
Looking at someone when they speak to you, or you to them, sends a powerful message. It says that you care about what they are saying. It says they are valuable and worth the time. Looking at your computer, checking your phone, etc sends a message that they do not matter to you.
Quite often I come across articles saying you should look them in the eye. I have specifically refrained from saying, “the eye” because there are many people who are uncomfortable with extended eye contact. Particularly, eye contact with their boss can be intimidating. You will need to discover each person’s preferred communication style and adjust accordingly. If they like eye contact then, by all means, make eye contact! For those that do not, ask them how they prefer to be communicated with.
Looking at the person you are speaking too communicates that you value them.
Be clear about what you stand for
When your people know what you stand for, they will put more trust in you. A consistent leader is a safe leader.
I try to let my team know what I expect upfront. When potential team members are being interviewed I make it a point to explain the culture of the team and organization. My expectations are clearly made known so the interviewee and I can establish a good fit for the position.
Know and make known what you stand for.
Help with the dirty work
I see many people in leadership positions out there who refuse to do menial work. Those tasks are pushed off to the junior members of the team. This fosters a negative attitude toward those tasks that the entire team will tap into. In the end, with everyone trying to get rid of the task, it will be done poorly. On the opposite side are leaders who are not afraid to get down into the trenches with their people. No task is too small or menial for them. That kind of a leader inspires pride in the team’s work, and will cause team effectiveness to go up.
While in training as a manager at a fast-food restaurant, I noticed that the other closing management staff had a particular struggle with getting the fry bins cleaned. Each evening, after the restaurant closed, a team member had to disassemble the fry station by pulling out the dividers, the drip grate, and removing the oil catch pan. Each piece had to be cleaned and disinfected before it could be put back. It was a nasty, slippery, gooey job that nobody wanted to do, but it had to get done. Other managers hid in the office and threatened write-ups to the crew. It was tough to watch. I knew there had to be a better way. During my first shift as “the boss”, I rolled up my sleeves and tackled the fry bins, then I mopped the floor and closed the registers. Only after the dreaded tasks were done did I sit down in the office to fill out the daily reports. After only a couple weeks of doing this every night there, was a shift in my crew. They understood that I was not too good for the small things and that mindset became contagious. They would race to see who could get the fry bins cleaned out the quickest!
You will not always be doing the dirty work. As the team sees that you will not ask of them anything you would not do yourself they will begin to take ownership of the tasks and allow you to step away.
Do not ask anything from your team that you would not do yourself.
Genuinely care about them as a person
People are not robots, they have dreams and emotions. Humans are designed to be connected. Your team is no different. Your people will watch you to see if you truly care about them as a person, or if you see them as a means to an end.
Here are a few things you can do to show your team you genuinely care about them as individuals:
- 1:1s that are driven by them. Schedule regular 1:1s and hold that time as sacred. It is the perfect time to check-in and see how they are doing. Find out about their family and hobbies.
- Give them easy access to you. One easy way I do this is via our internal chat tool. It is a fabulous way not only to be available to them, but the chat history will help you easily call up details from prior conversations.
- Send thank-you notes. I try to do this quarterly.
- Privately message them each day to check-in. This has enabled some great conversations with my team. Unlocked new ideas for the business and enabled personal learning as well.
People follow leaders they can relate to. The things you relate to do not need to be work-focused. There are several people on my team with kids, and of them, I am the newest parent. My wife and I waited later to have kids, and the rest of the team with older kids enjoy seeing my 11 month old daughter and sharing their parenting tips. It has created a strong relationship between us.
Do not be afraid to ask dumb questions
The fact of the matter is that none of us enjoy being out of the loop, or not understanding all the details of a project. The reality is that more often than not, we leaders will not know everything about the inner working and construction of a project. That is ok! Your job as a leader is not to know everything, it is to lead!
Your job as a leader is not to know everything, it is to lead!
Do not be afraid to ask questions, even if they seem like dumb questions. Your team will value your transparency. It is easy to spot someone faking knowledge. Your team will rise to the occasion and educate you. Most people seem to enjoy it when their boss asks a question because it is an opportunity to show off their deep knowledge of a subject.
In all my time leading, only twice has an individual reacted negatively to my questions. However, that person was not a team player and had a reputation as a bully. That kind of behavior is not to be tolerated. They need to ship up or ship out!
Do not try to be the best
There may have been a time when you were the best. When I was younger, I was a voracious programmer. I could run circles around many of my peers. The solutions I came up with were often more elegant and had better performance than my teammates. I was on the top of the pile. That was many years ago though. Since then I have focused on becoming the best leader I can be. Paving the way for my team’s success does not leave much time for programming. I had to accept the fact long ago that every individual of my team can now run circles around me, and that is ok.
John C. Maxwell often repeats the phrase, “You have to give up to go up.” Meaning, to move into leadership, you will have to give up some of the activities you used to do. You will no longer be able to be the best at X because you will be focused on Y. Being the best at X means you are not spending time taking care of your team. When I feel dismayed that I am no longer the best, I remember that before I led I could do a single unit of work for every hour I worked. As a leader, each hour I can accomplish N units of work, where N is the number of people on the team. Now my role, and yours too, is not being the best at X, but being the best leader for your team.
Get comfortable not always being liked
I like to be liked. The first time I had a team member who did not like me, it hit me like a piano falling off a 5 story balcony. It hurt, but I had to get comfortable with it. You can spend every minute of your day trying to be liked, but there will always be times when someone just does take a fancy to you. Take a deep breath, it is ok. Your job is not to be universally liked, your job is to lead the team to the best of your ability. Get comfortable not always being liked.
Being a leader is tough! I want to save you the heartache of learning through the school of hard-knocks as I did. If you could use a hand in your leadership journey, head over to https://benlobaugh.com and drop me a line. I help leaders grow through mentoring and coaching. Let me know how I can help you today.
Originally published at https://ben.lobaugh.net on April 6, 2020.