I’d like to say that when I was younger I knew exactly what I was going to do with my life and where I was going – but the truth is like many young people I really didn’t have a clue. And I do believe that some of the paths I almost took would likely have led to a destination I wouldn’t be happy with today.
But how do you know what you don’t know?
A business colleague asked me the other day what influenced me to start my own business rather than continue to grow with an organization. My reply was pretty quick. The practice of managing people is often the weakest link in an organization and yet we depend on our employees to run our organizations. I wanted to take all of the experiences I have gained over the years and offer that expertise to organizations that can’t afford fulltime HR staff, but need guidance in creating work environments that attract and retain top performers.
I started thinking though. I believe I was always meant to help others in some form or fashion. So many people influenced my life in many different ways. Not always good, but always good learning. I would love to take the credit for all the positive choices in my life, but the truth is, even in the worst of times someone is influencing your next decision.
But in my reply to my colleague I reflected on two separate conversations I had in my mid 20′s: one with a more experienced coworker, and one with my boss at the time. I won’t go into the details, but I will say that a couple of 20-minute discussions truly did change my life.
These two people apparently recognized my strengths and understood my struggles. Their suggestions for my professional development came unsolicited; and as I look back I know I probably would never have asked.
If I hadn’t taken advantage of their wisdom when it came to me, I wouldn’t be in the place I am today. It’s impossible to predict just where I would have ended up, but I do know that I am very happy with how it’s all played out so far…
So, to me, those two short conversations were powerful mentoring moments that shifted the course of the rest of my life. I’ve learned that mentorship can come in the form of a structured, formal program; or that it can show up as an impromptu 20-minute conversation while eating lunch.
Who’s helped you out through their words of wisdom? How did that change your life? Were their moments in your life in which you wish someone had offered up their knowledge? When have you been a mentor, and how could this have potentially changed a life?
The point is to not hold back. Share your wisdom. You never know the impact you may have with your words. And the bonus is that the more we give, the more we get back – and the happier we are!
I recently attended a conference and several managers were discussing their jobs. They all agreed that the biggest frustration was dealing with the people issues. One individual stated “Wouldn’t the job be great if we did not have to handle all these people issues?”
Several others agreed and many laughed. However, one manager stood out and stated, “You know ladies and gentlemen, if we didn’t have the employees, we wouldn’t have a job.” It was interesting to observe the expressions on several faces in the group. He went on to say that although sometimes extremely challenging (and we all know that) it is what makes the job so great, he lightened the mood by saying “and that’s also why we get paid the big bucks.”
But seriously speaking as a leader of employees, we must assume different roles at different times in our interaction with our employees. These roles are coach, mentor, trainer and supervisor. The difference between the successful and the less successful leader is the amount of time spent in each role.
A successful leader will spend 80 percent of his or her time as a coach and/or a mentor while the less successful leader spends 80 percent of his time in supervision and training. As a leader, we understand each employee goes through these four roles with us.
When an employee is new, our role is typically more as a trainer. We have to teach them how to perform the job, what the company policies are, and what our and the company’s expectations are of them.
Once the employee understands the job, our initial training is completed. We then move into supervision to ensure the employee knows and understands his or her job. Based on this supervision, we may have to back up into the training role again to correct weaknesses.
But after a period, as the employee grows, we then become a coach; our final role is mentor, showing the way. As a coach, we are motivating them and helping with the big picture. Finally, as a mentor, we are establishing the path for them to follow.
The successful leader understands these roles and how each employee goes through them. They understand they have to adapt and change roles based on each individual employee they manage. They may be coaching one employee only to turn around and spend 15 minutes training the next and then become a mentor to a third. But what a great feeling it is to see someone you trained, coached and mentored move up the ranks and make it in their own right. That is what makes the job so great!
When I began my career I was lucky enough to have some great mentors. However, as I began to progress I began to encounter executives who exasperated me. In most cases they were nice people and I would have to be fair and say that “most” meant well. However, in my view they were completely incompetent as leaders and managers. As my experience grew and my exposure to senior executives and other leadership styles increased, I realized this scenario was all too common. In speaking to many of my clients, colleagues, friends and family I often hear war stories of their inept manager.
Unfortunately, there are many leaders with obvious dysfunctions and yet they manage to rise to and remain in prominent, senior roles. Working with them can be frustrating and disheartening, especially to those who clearly demonstrate excellence and are looking for mentorship to grow their careers. I have heard the hopelessness in people as they criticize, complain and nag the ear off anyone who would listen. It was a way to make it through the next day. But after the initial whining these inept leaders forced me into the process of self-analysis; what kind of leader did I want to be, or more importantly not want to be.
The wisdom of this process was that in hindsight, I learned far more about great leadership from a few of the dysfunctional leaders than I ever learned from the excellent ones. The distress they caused me was a strong learning stimulant for the following lessons:
Self-Motivation – Nothing like a dysfunctional de-motivator to force one to drive oneself to continue to succeed in spite of the roadblocks.
Keep True to Yourself – Don’t change your core values and beliefs to grow your career. Integrity and self-respect are much more important and will triumph in the end.
Patience – This is probably the biggest lesson I learned and is an essential leadership quality. Patience under poor management does not mean I am waiting for them to act, it means I am persevering despite their actions.
Positive Attitude – Prevailing wisdom and much research show that having a positive attitude improves the likelihood you will achieve your goal, speeds your progress and, perhaps most importantly, makes you more resilient – All of which help you overcome obstacles and remain persistent in pursuit of your goal.
Let it Go – dealing with the stress of working under this dysfunction taught me to be less judgmental and more inclined to give support. If you take the good and throw the rest away, so to speak, it makes it easier for you to move forward. It is actually better to trust that everyone is doing their best within their capability. This mindset can often defuse a lot of your frustration and makes you more compassionate and forgiving.
So if you find yourself one day working for a dysfunctional leader, take heart. Set your intention to being grateful for the wisdom and leadership tools that you will learn through the process. You’ll be glad you did.