Welcome to the second part of my two-part series on the importance of responsibility and accountability for all leaders. As we discussed before (and as you well know), being a good leader is hard work. Much is expected of you, and you must wear many hats throughout a typical workday. All the while, you must also be technically competent and courageous enough to be unpopular by making decisions for the greater good. Not to mention, you must also be proficient at “soft skills” like innovativeness, charisma, fairness, excellent communication, active listening, and possess the patience of a saint.
However, employees who show little or no promise at any of the skills and practices listed above are often promoted to leadership positions simply because they were proficient at their job. They do not consider that as soon as they are promoted, their job description changes dramatically. It is no longer enough to be good at performing a task, providing a service, or selling a product! An old saying goes, "what got you there, won't keep you there." In the context of leadership, this tells us that a leader must adapt and learn how to get the job done through others by motivating, managing, and supporting their team.
Leaders aren’t born . . . they are made. When a baby is born, people do not say, “a leader is born!” They say, “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” Leadership is a skill that must be learned and practiced. Also, it must be continually developed to strengthen some of the core responsibilities of an effective leader, such as:
• Truthfulness. To be unclear with a team member on how they are doing is to be unkind. As a leader, your team trusts you to tell them when they have a proverbial piece of spinach in their teeth, which is to say, that there is a glaring problem that you will help them with.
• Active listening. The most effective leaders appreciate problems and like people. Great leaders do not see people and their issues as impositions on their time. The best boss I ever had used to manage by walking around. They would personally ask their team members, “How are you doing today? Any barriers preventing you from doing your job? What can I do to make coming to work more enjoyable?” Then, he listened to the team – this alone made the workers feel seen, heard, and appreciated.
• Lead by example. The expression "monkey see monkey do" applies to the workplace. Whether conscious of it or not, your team members base decisions every day about their behavior based on your performance as a leader. Although it sounds simplistic, most, if not all, of your team members will follow your example. For example, if you are reasonably optimistic, your team is likely to follow suit, which can come in handy when there are changes in the workplace to which everyone must adjust.
• Don’t gossip. Even if you were one to gab before you became a leader, don't make the mistake of believing that gossiping with your team makes you "one of them." Leaders who engage in gossip only damage the respect and credibility they need to get the job done.
• Don’t compare team members. Don’t compare another team member’s performance or behavior. This improves no one's performance and may have a ripple effect through your department that there is a "teacher's pet" or that you are keeping a score on everyone.
• Stick up for your team members. If co-workers or other departments criticize your team, take the blame even when you are not personally responsible for the shortcomings. The buck stops with you! Responsibility for final results cannot be delegated. Defending your team will earn your workers' trust and make it more likely that they will accept helpful feedback from you on how to do better next time.
• Don’t undermine your boss. Your boss has a reasonable expectation that you will outwardly support them in front of your team. Don’t do or say anything that may compromise your boss’ position or authority.
Leaders, have you ever had to ask yourself, “WHY is my team underperforming?” It’s never a good feeling and can lead to many sleepless nights and stressful days. Well, the next time they are not doing what you want them to do, I encourage you to look into the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I doing what I am supposed to be doing?” You see, leaders, what got you there, won’t keep you there! Always remember that leaders aren’t born . . . they are made.