If you’re in a position of authority, chances are you need to stop doing what you’re doing.  Yes, well-read, wide-eyed golden child, this means you.  You may be good at your job, but you probably suck as a manager.  There, I said it.  Let’s hope you do something about it.

Breakdown

Moliere is attributed with the artful phrase:

“It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.”

These days, I’m thinking about how this nugget – doing and not doing – applies to business, building a strong pervasive culture, and empowering well-intentioned passionate people.  I’m not a human resources or recruiting professional by any stretch, but it’s clear to me how top-down methods, values, and management styles affect subjective and frequently minimized issues like employee satisfaction, career aspirations, and general life outlook.  If you think this is just “soft fuzzy stuff,” that doesn’t have a wit to do with the bottom line, just wait up a minute.  You can go buy your first clue over at Sametz Blackstone Assoc. by reading Tamsen McMahon’s post covering real-world management lessons.

“…people are at the heart of any change. To make change happen, you have to have people who can make change happen.”  To which I add you need to have people you inspire to pursue change.  And you need to have people who believe you’ll support their methods and defend the outcomes.

If you have the mentality of “They get a paycheck, a darn good one, too.  They better be doing a great job!” you’ve adopted a serf-and-lord mentality that only serves to keep people in check, where they belong, performing rote tasks without hope.  Yes, people should meet the expectations of the role they hold – but if, as a boss, what you really want is innovative calculated risk-takers who think about your business in the middle of the night and Saturday afternoons, then you have to really ask yourself – better yet, ask a management coach – if you’re limiting their outcomes through your own shortcomings.

Shut Up When I’m Talking To You

Adam Singer draws a line between insufferable omnipotent people of power and confidence-inspiring stalwart leaders as he explores marketing and bureaucracy.  His point, as I interpret it, is businesses that empower (support) talented, creative people lay the groundwork for success because by allowing employees to explore options, push conventions, and take educated risks, the companyLeadership and management styles is building an emotional bond with its most valuable assets.  Trust that the people you’ve hired want to achieve – even exceed – goals and they will.

But you say, “It’s not their department/company.  It’s my department/company.  Why would they care about it like I do?  No one cares as much as I do.  I have to look out for things, I’m accountable.  It needs to be done my way or there’s too much risk.”  Baloney.  Give people more credit than that.

Comfortably Numb

Your way is based on your personal world view, and the cynical and disparaging notion that others can’t cogitate as good as you can.  Granted, your world view and talents have served you well, but are you so arrogant as to think yours is the only path to achievement?  Enter clue number two, from Bnet – rob people of their passion and their ownership enough times and you’ll end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy and a cube farm full of drones.  They learned there’s no point in surfacing ideas or ardently defending recommendations.  You’ll have to continue doing things your way.

At the most basic level, employees depend on you.  You’re the boss, after all.  But don’t over-simplify or obfusicate the issue.  Most of us really want more out of life than routine tasks and “Satisfactory” evaluations.  We’re looking for inspiration, for the people and the opportunities that make the daily grind something of personal choice and a source of pride over practical necessity.  We want to succeed and make the boss – the one which encourages our ideas – proud.  Can you honestly you’re creating a nurturing environment?  Or just giving it lip service or a token gesture?

Slippery When Wet

Perhaps this issue of autocratism – trust – was best addressed by a lady sporting tight buns:

“The more you tighten your grip [Tarkin] the more [star systems] will slip through your fingers,” prophetized by Princess Leia in Star Wars:  Episode IV –  A New Hope (1977).

Best of You

The point?  Let go.  Trust that they’ll do what it takes to do a good job.  Give them permission to flounder, even fail.  And trust that if they miss the mark, despite their best efforts, it will matter as much to them as it does to you.  And next time will rock.

“I must follow the people.  Am I not their leader?” –Benjamin Disraeli

Revolution

Alright, so I’m using humor, pop culture, and music trivia to help illustrate my points about leadership and management.  Some of you may deem my approach sophomoric, and I’m okay with that.  Why?  We all have gifts.  I think one of mine is taking seemingly disparate bits, weaving them together, and coming up with something new.  You may get it, you may not.  S’okay, it takes all kinds, right?

In any case, I hope that if you’re a manager you’re now holding that mirror up a little higher and taking a long, hard look.  Change can start with you, and it can start today.  Serve the needs of others through your leadership.  Be open, allow yourself to become vulnerable, and you may be surprised – even humbled – by those around you.

Song title credits:  Seether, Linkin Park, Pink Floyd, Bon Jovi, Foo Fighters, Tracy Chapman

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About Heather Rast

Heather Rast

Heather is Principal of a boutique Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. She develops brand positioning strategy and marketing communications plans to distinguish small businesses from the competition and attract their ideal customers. Her content planning, writing, and online community-building work helps larger businesses better serve their audiences with useful information that solves problems as it builds affinity for the brand.

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  • http://twitter.com/garious1 Garious

    I think that great leaders are those who failed a thousand times and succeeded on their 1001st try. I'd be wary of someone who claim that he or she hasn't met failure at all. Is it all about credibility and social proof these days? I think many forget the spiritual side of leadership these days which is as simple as the golden rule of karma.

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      Faith (in our own abilities and our support system), Fire (the desire to learn, grow and achieve), and Focus (concentrating on the task and goals before us) come together with Knowledge to create high performance. A good leader helps establish and maintain the support system/environment which enables trust to take root.

      I agree that failure plays an important part in the learning process, but this post isn't about the merits of controlled exploration. Experiencing failure, regardless of scale or frequency, doesn't necessarily build a great leader or enable someone to be a good manager of people. Among the qualities possessed by a good leader or manager is the humility to know the roles others play in their own personal success, and the strength of character to support the needs of others as they relate to the goals of the organization.

  • Vince DeGeorge

    This really starts at the top of an organization – and sets the tone for the senior and middle managers down the line. Most org charts to me are upside down. The person “at the top” is actually at the bottom supporting the foundation for the rest of the company. If that foundation fails, it will be very unstable for the rest. Each level below (above in my scenario) is another layer that can fail – but again, it all starts with whoever is in charge of it all.

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      Vince and Eddie, I believe leadership is exercised, not earned through career advancements. As you both suggest, culture is born from the values and vision owners and senior-level executives identify and practice in everyday decision-making. A culture of open leadership has to be nurtured and maintained just like any relationship; there must be deeds to go along with the talk.

  • http://www.superiorpromos.com Eddie

    @Vince – this is so true, the culture must be set from the top down. When the executives display the culture on a daily basis it becomes infectious throughout the company.

  • http://www.puredriven.com Patrick Garmoe

    Heather, excellent post on leadership, about workers needing true passion and ownership. Each person needs to know as William Ernest Henley, wrote in his poem Invictus: “I am the captain of my soul.”

    A great book I read that really spells this out and shows people how to create great companies (by in essence allowing staff to take ownership), is http://www.triballeadership.net/ (free audio download).

    • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

      Patrick, I really like what you're saying here (and love the Henley quote!). Companies *are* so fearful of employee ownership–they see it as a threat, as a loss of voice. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When employees are actively empowered to explore solutions and generate results – within the parameters of business objectives – they're able to pursue success on behalf of the company that believes in them. The outcomes are valuable in terms of return, of course, but also in less tangible yet critically important ways like employee satisfaction, loyalty, and a fire to perform.

  • Collierak

    Excellent article I wish my manager would read this!