We tend to correlate experience with stronger leadership. The common Steve Jobs narrative swings from impetuous youth to lessons learned.
It stands to reason that people who have been tested when things didn’t go according to plan — “What do you mean an impromptu YouTube video just went live with our head our marketing giving a new definition to the term branding?” — expand their leadership game.
Yet, there’s a downside to experience when it comes to leadership.
We can gain a false sense of security that we’ve seen it all — “been there done that” — which limits our field of vision. That’s why you see forms of the verb “calcify” increasingly surface in the business media.
Like this one in Bloomberg:
“An investor presentation on Wednesday was an opportunity for Kroger executives to change a calcifying perception that the grocery giant won’t be able to hold its own against a Whole Foods Market now owned by Amazon.com Inc.”
I attended a leadership training session a zillion years ago that left me with a lasting impression from four core lessons:
1. The golden rule is BS.
How often have we heard someone parrot the adage, “Treat people as you would like to be treated.” Such advice works fine in a restaurant when your steak arrives well done when you requested it rare. But in the workplace, not everyone is like you nor wants to be treated like you. Effective leadership means understanding each individual and communicating in a way that’s going to best resonate.
2. A person’s direct manager largely shapes his/her experience in a company.
This line has been etched in my brain:
- “People don’t leave organizations. They leave bosses.”
If you step back and consider what impacts a person’s happiness factor in a company, the core components include the person’s job responsibilities, compensation and the culture, for sure. A company can absolutely nail these three areas only to see a bad manager wipe out the positives and surface dreams of a greener pasture.
3. Feedback shouldn’t be advice.
Instead, an effective leader finds a way to be a mirror in helping one of his/her team members solve a problem. The more specific the feedback, the more likely it will spur some type of action to be taken. Of course, the tricky part is that the more specific the feedback, the more painful it tends to be for the person on the receiving end.
One more point on this topic—
If you care about people, genuinely care, you gain latitude in providing feedback.
4. Take the time to communicate internally.
We assume that everyone can see the same things that we see. Not true.
Reading these words today is a reminder for myself. As a closet introvert, I gravitate to a singular focus on the task at hand, ideally sequestered in a conference room, when it’s just as important to talk with others and understand what’s on their minds as well as sharing your perspectives.
I read a Harvard Business Review article on the 13 truths of leadership, with one rising above the others:
“I have a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for me.”
Leadership gurus have touted the value of empathy in the workplace for some time. The book “Emotional Intelligence” became a best seller in 1995.
Still, there’s something to be said for the simplicity of the HBR line, to recognize that no leader can feel what it’s like to be on the receiving end of her/his leadership, flaws and all.