Looking like a leader versus being one

There is a saying about leadership. The better leaders tend to deflect credit to others, the worse leaders tend to assume credit even when it is not due. Think about this as you consider various leaders.

One leader in the news is known as a narcissist. He is on record as saying he alone can solve our problems. He has said  that no one knows taxes better than he does maybe in the history of taxes. He has said no one knows ISIS better not even the generals.

He has beaten on his chest saying how great a job he is doing when most observers see chaos and incompetence. Yet, he controls the message to his followers and says he is being treated unfairly.

He would not be the first leader to take advantage of photo ops, but this man lives a life without substance. He is all about smoke and mirrors. He is all about appearing to be a leader. He is not about being one.

Leaders have to deal with the truth and not bend it to fit their view. How can someone solve problems when they don’t know what they are or what caused them? How can someone lead when their history is one of self-service and not helping people? How can one lead people who he has taken advantage of his entire life?

This leader looks the part. He is successful  and wants people to know it. He stands in front of airplanes as successful people have airplanes. He has his name on everything as his name represents success. The dilemma is it is all for show. His business career is spotty. His mentor taught him to never admit mistakes and to sue everyone. He has had over 4,000 lawsuits in his career.  And, he has trouble admitting his mistakes. It is always someone else’s fault.

A leader does not do these things. There is another leader who did not look the part. He took over after a great, popular leader had died. He almost lost his reelection. He is known for two things. He said “the buck stops here” meaning he owned the problems. He is also viewed as one of the best presidents. His name is Harry Truman. We all know the name of the other guy.

 

 

 

I believe in you

These are very simple words, but they are extremely powerful when used. “I believe in you” can make a huge difference in performance, whether it is at work, at home or at play. A real life example may help, but I have changed the name of the individual to protect the identity of the person.

Sandy has worked in retail for many years at the same small store. She is a solid contributor, very pleasant to customers and quite loyal. While Sandy is not the best employee in the store, she is very reliable and is often called in when others cannot work their scheduled slot. Only rarely does she say no, as she needs the hours.

Like many retailers, this store is pushing cross-selling at the register. And, like many stores, they also have a phone application where customers can find answers to questions and guideposts on their own. Sandy, hates cross-selling as she knows many of their customers are return ones and don’t need to be invited to buy, but she is obligated to make offers.

Sandy was not performing well under stretch store measures, as the retailer was in financial trouble. The application sales were critical as they provided recurring revenue. The cross-sell push was strong and it made her feel quite uncomfortable. Her manager was stressed and made her stress known to Sandy and others. As a result, Sandy felt threatened and it affected her work, psyche, and health. Her scheduled hours suffered and her boss was hyper-critical of her. She considered other employment.

And, then the stress went away. An old boss who knew Sandy and what she was capable of, replaced the stress-causing boss who was asked to leave. Sandy was not the only one who felt the extra tension. The returning boss “believed in” Sandy and gave her room and opportunity. Sandy sold more of the applications and gained greater comfort in cross-selling without being too intrusive. And, her scheduled hours went up.

The boss who left openly and caustically shared her displeasure with others. Sandy is far from perfect, but the stress causing boss, created the circumstances for less fruitful performance. The returning boss knew how to lead and manage. She believed in her workers even while giving them high goals. This belief enabled Sandy to perform at a much higher level and the results showed.

“I believe in you.” Leaders can make a difference with these words. Not every employee is an “A” employee. Any team is a mixture of different skills and capabilities. A leader will provide the necessary amounts of management and encouragement. They will know when to step on the accelerator or ease off and tap the brakes. Good leaders are few and far between, but each manager can be a little better at leading. The results might be staggering, if they do.

And, the less than great bosses…

One of my more frequented posts is a “Tribute to a Great Boss” which I believe many folks check out as they want to see the attributes of someone who does the job well, as so many do not. This boss is also very humorous, so his many sayings are worth the read.* Yet, even though he was the best boss I ever had, he was not perfect. Nor are the many other bosses I have had the pleasure of working for. Some of their imperfections stood out more than others, but I have been blessed not to work for any screamers or tantrum throwers, which unfortunately exist.

My second favorite boss was a terrific story-teller and was supportive of me and others. His stories were so riveting, we would end up correcting them as he retold them again and again to new audiences. Our office flourished under him and the three years we worked together were memorable. Yet, his Achilles Heel was impulsive decisions and he left his role out of frustration, a decision he later regretted and put a strain on his marriage which ended in divorce. We missed him greatly after he left.

My favorite story of his is when he arrived at a meeting with someone he had not met before the administrative assistant had arrived. He was waved in and the guy proceeded to tell him about a legal problem. My boss is a great listener, so he is taking notes and is rapt with attention. When he finished his story, the guy said “What do you think I should do?” My boss said, “I think you should hire an attorney.” The guy looked at him and said “Who are you?” The guy had mistaken my boss for an attorney he had a meeting with next.

On the flip side, my first boss out of college was a great salesmen who was promoted to management, a very common mistake. Great salespeople do not necessarily make good managers. He was not an exception to this rule. He went out and bought 23 management books and read them all. One of his rules was to have a “quiet hour” from 9 am to 10 am, so no client calls or internal meetings could be had. Now, mind you, our business was to consult with clients, so not taking a call from them during that hour was not good for business. Eventually, the other senior folks in the office suggested he cease this practice. Unfortunately, he was asked to leave about six months after I got there, so the company lost a great salesman. We missed his excitement and passion to go see people.

I also had a boss that was a very good subject matter expert, but whose people’s skills left something to be desired. I learned a great deal from him both good and bad. I learned the subject matter in a practical way and he taught me how to dive into new things. Yet, I also learned how not to act as some of his mannerisms would make you feel awkward. He was like our Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory.” He is very smart and we remember him fondly in spite of his mannerisms. One of his shortcomings was small talk at client meetings. You wanted to make sure the meeting stayed focus on the issues. He was excellent with the issues. One of my favorite stories about him was in a client meeting when a key contact of our client was arguing over a legal issue with someone in the client’s general counsel office. My boss used both hands to inch the legal plan document over to the attorney and said what was written here says otherwise winning the argument for our contact. To see him push the document slowly over to the attorney was priceless.

One of my least favorite bosses was on the arrogant side, but he also was cheap. He would spend the company’s money on himself, but he would be quite frugal with his own money. An easy example is we would have year-end holiday parties at his house, with a secondary purpose to stock his liquor cabinet, as he would over order supplies. In spite of these traits, he had a congenial side and he contributed to our success, so we tolerated his behavior. We had a great run under his guidance, but it was more due to the caliber of people we had working under him. Yet, he would tell others in the firm how he harnessed these horses underneath him to achieve the success we had. That was a stretch.

Through my earlier years, I worked with a mentor who was one of the best consultants I ever worked with. He was never my boss, which is good, because he would have been horrible at it. He was a great consultant because he did not tolerate anything less than perfection. Unfortunately, no one is perfect, so he would have had issues with lesser talented people. I had to redo a lot of work at his suggestion. Yet, not being my boss, we could tease him about some of his habits to work very well with him. He was not my boss, but he had a great influence on my life and career. He is a lot like the final person I worked for at a small firm. He also pursued perfection on client issues and had a great reputation, but he was not a very good business person around time and expense management.

Each of these bosses I remember fondly to varying extents. I learned a lot from each, but none could be construed as perfect. Of course, neither could I.  I guess one piece of advice I would give to someone starting out is recognize the strengths and weaknesses of your boss and manage up. If you need face time to ask questions, schedule it. If your boss does not take the time to communicate well, help him or her using words comfortable to you. Also, where you can, discuss possible solutions and not just the problem.**  If you help this navigation process, then you can survive and flourish. And, don’t ever work for a screamer. If you do, keep your resume up to date and begin searching for a new job in case nothing is done about it.

* You can check out this post with the attached link: https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/tribute-to-a-great-boss/

** There is a great article called “Who’s Got the Monkey?” which will help you in managing up through offering possible solutions rather than passing the problem back to your boss.