Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wanted: Real Leaders

I’ve never aspired to be a supervisor or a manager of people, but I know what I like when it comes to someone “leading” me and for the most part, I’ve had bad ones. In the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with people who took the time to think through what it takes to lead and it has made a world of difference in my attitude.

For the most part, I go my own way on the job and do not possess the patience it takes to be a good leader, so to stay true to my own identity… I follow. Like my Dad, I have a low tolerance for “stupid” and all leaders have to deal with a certain amount of it.

I always look at a person in authority as a Lieutenant in a war zone and try to envision how they would react if under fire AND leading me. I admit, this is harsh and probably unfair, but I do it anyway. I think many of my past “Lieutenants” would have gotten both of us killed.

Often, a college degree puts a person in a position of leadership. More education means more authority, but along with that authority is the responsibility to make the right choices when it comes to bringing out the potential in a subordinate. More times than not, it simply means increasing the bottom line in profits or enforcing company policy. Leadership is position only, not developmental mentoring, as it should be.

Who suffers when profits are put ahead of employee growth potential? Everyone. The company, all levels of leadership and yes, finally, the worker, all share in the loss. Profits fall, absenteeism rises and problems abound. Trained personnel ply their resumes elsewhere.

In the Chris Farley movie “Tommy Boy”, Tommy puts his employee’s future ahead of profits and restores employee loyalty. “Employee Loyalty” has gone the way of the Dodo bird and the 8-track player. Other than Google and a few other places of employee prestige, the work force have little, or no loyalty to their places of employment, as compared to 50 years ago when folks married a company with plans to stay on until their last breath – and many did.

Shrinking benefits, the absence of profit-sharing, minimal “cost of living” increases, dismal compensations, pension failures and rising medical deduction liabilities have made the worker feel more like meat on a selling block, than a valued resource. Skilled workers jump teams faster than NBA players, up for contract negotiation. All this while profit rake-offs and CEO bonuses are at an all-time high.

Management complains the workers do not want to work and workers complain management needs to give them more. More what? More work? More money? I say it’s leadership and I define leadership as concrete direction, not just equipping and training working skills and proficiency, but also a genuine interest in their future development. The future portion is where real leadership is lacking.

The absence of trust between staff and management is appalling, generally speaking and I believe it is at an all time low.

It’s a two way street, following and leading and if a person is one hundred percent follower, anyone can lead them. If they are recalcitrant and rebellious like myself, it takes a person with actual leadership skills and a certain amount of finesse to gain their trust and loyalty.

Personally, the management style I prefer is one that is hands-off and unsupervised. I know my job well, having written most all of the procedures and what I need is direction, not bird-dogging. Let me know what you want, give me a quality and time requirement and then leave me alone to finish the task. Make me accountable and I will do my dead level best to not let you down. Attempt to micro-manage and I will resent it every time.

Some folks require a certain amount of supervision, even after they are trained to the task. Some require constant motivation and task correction. Others like myself desire very little and this is where leadership fails. Real leadership requires recognizing the difference in each person and learning to get the most out of your people without them hating your guts at the end of the day. Real leaders develop workers and teams of workers. Their staff becomes loyal to them.

If an employee ever suspects management couldn’t care less about their development and well being, that employee will automatically become less productive and no amount of threats or money will bring them to fruition. If however, the opposite takes place, an employee will work twice as hard to give the supervisor what they want. They will become a model worker that any supervisor would welcome onto their “team”. I’ve known a few of these leaders in my working career and their secret to success has always been, putting the employee first and this my friend, has helped the company profit more than they will ever know.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd give this an A+

Seabird

Anonymous said...

Bert - I enjoyed reading your commentary. Several points that I keyed on:

1. The difference between managing (supervision) and leading. In our company and industry, it is common for a degreed person to be given supervisory responsibilities without ever having any training in how to supervise. For those people to additionally take on leadership responsibility without any appraisal of aptitude or capability to lead is a recipe for failure.

2. Clearly define success for a job, and give the person the tools to succeed. Explain not just the job but the goal and the reason for the goal. Give praise and coaching, and don't micromanage or badger.

3. Build loyalty in the team. A good team is loyal. A loyal team communicates well and trusts each other. Trust is built through honesty, fairness and consistency.

Bruce

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Our founding fathers gave us a Republic, not a Democracy. I was probably about 17 the first time I picked up a copy of George Orw...