Today’s workforce is incredibly diverse — comprising multiple generations, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds. And even while businesses that embrace and leverage diversity see significant increases in workforce productivity, it is also true that some departments and companies are run by individuals who are poor leaders. Over time, poor leaders can derail an otherwise high-performing team, leaving unforeseen (and costly) consequences not only for talent retention but also talent acquisition.
I have been fortunate to have had many wonderful bosses and mentors throughout my career but, like most things human nature, it is the negative job experiences that have taught me the most. Here are three invaluable life lessons I have learned thus far:
Your trust is built on your word
In this era of personal branding, hyper networking, and influence currency, what you do and say, online or offline, has a tremendous impact on your capacity to lead effectively. Individuals in leadership roles must be engaged with their internal and external communities and aware of the consequences that occur when there is a discrepancy between what is said and what is done.
Actions will always speak louder than words. But your word is the most important trust builder in an employee relationship. It only takes one break in trust to cause damage–often leading to a re-examination of actions. Frequently it triggers the employee to revisit past situations from a wary viewpoint. And in this digital era–where most everything is trackable– this is very easy to do.
Multiple breaks are likely irreparable. To maximize an employee’s productivity and advocacy, a leader must engender as close to complete trust as possible and strive daily to educate by example.
There are many ways a bad leader can lose the trust of their team and affect morale and productivity. Here are four I have encountered, firsthand:
- Agreeing to something and then changing their mind a day or two later.
- Taking credit for someone’s elses efforts.
- Failing to meet appointments, deadlines etc. with team members.
- Blaming others publicly for their own errors.
Lesson #1: While everyone is human and we all make mistakes, how you behave in good times and bad times, online or offline, in public or in private is the pillar of trust with your employees. By default a leader sets the example that employees follow. Be mindful of your actions, thoughtful in your decisions, and awe-inspiring with your words.
Mentoring up for the win
Multi-generational workforces have advantages that past workforces never had: older employees can stay abreast of new trends and skills while younger employees can quickly learn best practices and technical theory – simply by association. I am an avid learner and will happily absorb information from any source. However, I have encountered individuals in leadership roles who are unwilling to acquire knowledge from employees, particularly if they are significantly younger or older than themselves. This is a roadblock to their personal success and a major hurdle for a multi-generational team.
Leaders may refuse to learn new skills from employees because:
- They think they will look weak.
- They think they know it all already.
- They think their peers will make fun of them.
- They don’t like to share their success secrets.
- They are insecure in their professional standing.
- Pure laziness and/or lack of introspection.
Lesson #2: The phrase “never judge a book by its cover” rings true here. Quality information can be sourced from the most unlikely places. Always be on the look-out for individuals who are at the top of their game and determine from their words and actions – not their appearance – if they will be a valuable resource for you.
Acknowledge the efforts of others as being as important as what you’re doing.
It is common for people in leadership roles to adopt the mentality that their daily tasks and overall job duties are more important than others on the team. These are constant, numbing blows to team morale, even when no words are said. Your employees are working towards mutual goals that you have set and together you will be successful. While it is normal for a leader to have tasks much different from those of their employees, failing to recognize the efforts of the team will decrease productivity and eventually lead to employee turnover.
A leader who goes so far as to verbalize these feelings risks mutiny. No matter how mundane the task, everybody’s workflow has challenges and stresses. Every person who puts their best effort forward and receives nary a kind word remembers that, while loyalty erodes.
Lesson #3: A little praise or acknowledgement of effort goes a long way. People crave positive feedback – especially from peers and superiors. For best results as a leader be sure to acknowledge employee efforts in a timely and authentic manner. Letting your team know that you’re appreciative is a reward better than a bonus.
As you progress in your career you will likely come across a wide variety of personality types, learning preferences, and leadership styles. And more so than ever, authenticity and transparency separate the good leaders from the bad.
The experiences that I have highlighted in this post have greatly influenced how I interact with my employees, peers, superiors, and community at large. I pride myself on being proactive in giving praise, quick to identify and act on a coaching opportunities, and always consuming and sharing useful information.
Life lessons frequently occur at work because we dedicate so much of our time to professional tasks. So, thank you shitty bosses. You’ve made me a better a me. Oh, and you’ve also caused me to rack up some hefty bar tabs but I’ll save that for another post.