Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Leadership Lesson - Showing Up for Work Is NOT the Goal

Sheila had a “problem boss.” He never affirmed or praised the good things she did. Once she asked him, "Did you like the way we closed out that project?" His answer was, "Don't you have something useful you should be doing right now?"

Not only did he have poor people skills, he micro-managed. It was his way of making sure people did their jobs. And he got angry and made disparaging comments when things didn't go his way. Because of how he dealt with her, she never felt the desire to do what she was capable of doing.

Sheila and her husband Guy often talked about their bosses, because by contrast, Guy's boss gave him the responsibility, authority, freedom of action, and recognition he felt he deserved. He loved coming to work every day because he knew his boss believed in him. Even though Guy knew he could get by doing what was required, he admired and trusted his boss so much that he wanted to do his best for him.

And so it goes in the world of work. As a manager, if all you ever wanted was for people to come to work on time and do what’s required, you could just manage them the way you do anything else, such as funds, tools, equipment, supplies, etc. You wouldn’t need people skills.

But what most managers really want is for team members to do their best work—both individually and as a coordinated effort.

People have talent. They have energy. They have the potential to be creative. They can be bold, patient, persistent, and a lot of other things as they work through tough challenges.

But even if they’re capable of delivering this kind of effort, they don’t have to. There’s a certain level of performance - and they know what it is - that’s specified in their job description. To keep their jobs, that’s what they have to do. When the boss tells them to do something, that’s what they have to do.

The problem is that this level of effort is what managers recognize as “business as usual.” It’s not the kind of high performance team members are capable of. What managers want most are things that can’t be specified or measured: courage, compassion, commitment, composure, optimism, decisiveness, and dozens of other aspects of performance. You can’t demand these things and you can’t hold people accountable for them.

To get what you really want from people, you have to lead them. You have to grow them into the kind of team members who willingly do these things. And you have to inspire them. You have to support them and encourage them. Eventually, when they know the leader, like the leader, respect the leader and trust the leader, then they may choose to give that level of effort. And if they do, day in and day out, work will become very satisfying to them. And of course it will be satisfying to the manager.

That’s why people skills and personal strengths are so important. It’s not rocket science, but it’s the real reason why managers need to make the effort to become better leaders.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .


Anonymous said...

During the last 11 years of my legal career, I served as a senior level in-house lawyer and ultimately the General Counsel for a midsized corporation. Part of my job was to supervise a small group of in-house lawyers...a task, it's been said, is not unlike trying to herd cats. I fully agree with this often used simile.

I was fortunate throughout this 11-year period of my career to have one young lawyer on my staff, who may have been almost the perfect employee. She was a workhorse. To say I "supervised" her is a euphemism. All I had to do was give her the objective and parameters of a legal or administrative project and point her toward the deadline. She took it from there. She was intelligent; competent; professional; hard-working; practical; thorough; articulate; an effective writer; pro-active; task-oriented; committed to excellence; and honest. (Yes, I said "honest." Please no cynical lawyer jokes.) Plus, she never complained; almost always had a smile on her face; displayed a perpetual upbeat attitude; had a good sense of humor; and revealed a mature perspective on her work and her life. She and I even shared a couple of favorite sports teams and she and her husband liked many of the same kinds of movies that my wife and I enjoyed.

Over the years I came to deeply respect her and her work; I trusted her; and I relied on her to help me meet my General Counsel responsibilities. During annual performance reviews, I always gave her high ratings, with lots of specific examples of the excellence of her performance to support my glowing evaluations.

About two years before I retired, as part of one of those annual reviews, our HR Department had implemented a program where supervisors and managers were to provide their employees with a series of written questions designed to give the supervisor feedback on his or her management skills and effectiveness. One of the questions was something like, "Describe one or two behaviors related to your manager's supervision of you that you think he or she could improve. Please be specific."

When I opened my "perfect" employee's comments and read her response to this question, my jaw dropped. All she wrote was, "I'd liked to be thanked more for my work." That was it. The law department's dependable workhorse, who always performed her tasks at a high level, with a smile on her face, and never complained. All she wanted from me was to be thanked more. Had I not always given her glowing performance ratings with regular pay increases? Wasn't that enough "thanks" for a job well done? Apparently not. I learned that all human beings, even non-complaining, professional workhorses want to be thanked for their hard work. Sure, highly rated performance reviews, pay raises, and promotions are appreciated, but every now and then, a simple and sincere "thank you" will go a long way.

After that learning experience I made it a point to look my employees in the eye and thank them when they did well -- at least as often as I critiqued them when they came up short. I don't have any metrics to prove it, but it seemed to me that the overall productivity of the lawyers in my law department went up during the last two years before I retired. I swear, I think my workhorse even got better.


Denny Coates said...

Ron, this is the finest, most insightful comment that anyone has ever left on any blog post of mine. I hope everyone takes the time to read it.

Doug Smith said...

Great post and a terrific comment from Ron. It's so easy to forget that people want and need to be thanked for a job well done (and sometimes even for the effort to do a job well, even when they come up short).

I can go a week on a positive comment from my boss, while a negative comment can stop me in my tracks and disrupt my productivity. I'm guessing that lots of people are effected the same way.

-- Doug Smith