If you are of a certain age, you likely have worked for supervisors who are true leaders and for those who are bosses. You might have left a job because you could not tolerate working for your manager or for a company overall. When we look back at our work life, those memories are often defined by our feelings about our managers.
If you are now a manager, supervisor, or boss, you can decide what your management style will be. Do you want to be a leader or a boss? But what’s the difference between the two? Let’s begin with leadership-styled management, which generally includes communication, empowerment, and mentorship.
Communication is Generally the Foundation of All Good Leadership
Good communication in this context is a conversation, not a set of directions. While it is essential to communicate your expectations, good leaders do this with empathy and active listening to the other party. They paraphrase what they hear from their employees to avoid misunderstandings. They answer questions to fill any knowledge gaps, respond to concerns their employee might express, and offer additional training needed to do the job well. In a communication-based conversation, a leader will ascertain an employee’s level of comfort or discomfort and respond accordingly. They convey their confidence in the employee to be able to accomplish the job at hand. A leader knows that it is not the employee’s job to ‘figure it out’ and will not place them in a position to try to do so.
Empowering your employees means giving them the authority to make decisions to allow them to do a better job. It gives them a voice and even a stake in the process. It means that you do not micromanage your employees. By not micromanaging, your employees will understand that you trust and believe in them. Empowerment also means including your employees as a part of an overall team, each with the ability to safely offer input to make beneficial changes.
People make mistakes. They are human and make errors in process or judgment. Shaming an employee for an error merely breaks them down. Every error can also be an opportunity for mentorship from you or other team members. The employee should review the situation with his or her mentor as each contributes to how the outcome could be changed with different actions or decisions. This avoids putting the employee on the defensive and creates a team dynamic once again.
This is also an opportunity for you to improve your leadership skills. Mentorship is a significant opportunity to ‘build’ a better employee. Great leaders evaluate and recognize their role in situations where their direct reports have made errors. They ask themselves if the employee was provided with the right set of skills, if they received enough information, or understood the context of the whole project or issue. Were they fully empowered to make decisions to influence a better outcome? Beyond providing training, good mentorship should include a 360-degree view of what occurred, with all parties involved owning their participation in the process.
A Real-World Example
Scenario #1: Joe asks Dan to rearrange some inventory for easier access. Dan says he is uncertain how the inventory should be arranged. Joe responds that he hears Dan’s concerns and asks him for his own ideas. Joe also suggests that Dan have a short conversation with other employees to ascertain if that is also the best arrangement. Joe meets with Dan to hear his final plan. He congratulates him on his creative thinking and offers him a few modifying suggestions. He tells Dan to move forward with his plan. Dan makes a modification during his process, which doesn’t provide easy access to some of the store’s top-selling items. When Dan is finished, Joe checks back and asks Dan why he made a different choice. Hearing Dan’s reasons, Joe tells Dan he understands his reasons, but that he would like him to move the top-selling inventory closer to the front. He again asks Dan for input, and Dan agrees to the minor rearrangement. Joe expresses his satisfaction and thanks him for his thoughtful performance.
Scenario #2: Joe tells Dan to rearrange some inventory in the back room. He doesn’t explain why it is necessary and tells him exactly how he wants it to be done. He leaves Dan to carry out his instructions without inviting his participation in the plan. He checks back often to assure Dan is carrying out his instructions without modification. Dan makes a modification, and Joe immediately demands that Dan move the inventory according to the original plan without explanation. When Dan is finished, Joe sends him to complete another task without comment.
In the first scenario, Joe influenced Dan to create a plan for inventory arrangement in concert with his fellow employees. This improved staff communication and helped Dan recognize that inventory management is essential, not a menial box-moving job. In doing so, he also empowered Dan to offer his own ideas and to see himself as a part of the team for the company’s good. He delegated authority to Dan rather than merely delegating a task. Joe didn’t micro-manage Dan, asked him for an adjustment, and conveyed his approval for a job well done in the end. This is true leadership.
How can you learn to be a better leader?
First, ask your employees to review your management skills twice a year using a methodology that assures complete anonymity. This is often an unpopular idea, as many don’t really want to know or don’t care what their employees think. I encourage you to be fearless, however, and you will gain the true respect of your employees in the process.
Next, take a personal inventory of your attitudes, strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. All of these deeply influence your leadership style or lack thereof. What needs to change inside of you to improve your leadership skills? Consider taking a course in active listening to ensure your communication with your employees is a two-way street. You might seek a business coach to help you revise your management style.
Why does good leadership really matter?
- Effectively guide your employees to obtain their very best at all times
- Lessen employee turnover
- Your leadership style will transmit through your employees to your customers
- Leadership is less stressful than being a boss as it is a more balanced relationship; it also invites you to improve your own skills constantly
- Excellent leadership is often reflected in the bottom line
Enjoy your journey toward better leadership. It is a trip worth taking!