Saturday, March 27, 2010

First Time - Part 20: Set the Example

This is part 20 of in a series of short essays on fundamentals of leadership. While it is drafted for those who have just moved into their first leadership position, I hope there is a little something in here for the most practiced of leaders, a 'getting back to basics' that everyone needs every now and then.

Leading means setting a good example and you need to do it all day, every day. You need to set the example in big things and small things. You will find, however, that setting the example in the mundane, the routine, is nearly as important as the example you set in times of crisis – and often more difficult to manage, because that day-to-day example is going to set the tone of your entire organization.

There are some obvious examples (though even these are often ignored by people who claim to be leaders): praise in public, censure in private; always remain calm; thank those who work for you (and do the real work); etc. You can probably add three or four off the top of your head.

But there are some other 'simple' maxims that you as a leader need to remember.

Set the example in routine things. This can have a hundred shades of meaning, but for starters, consider this: work smart, not hard. If you are coming into work at 6 AM and leaving at 8 PM every day, and you are always exhausted, what 'signal' does that send to your people? Certainly, there are times when that can't be helped; everyone will know that. But, if you make it a habit of simply being in your office, when you clearly have other places to be, you also send a message that you really don't trust the folks under you to do their jobs when you aren't there.

We all have bad days. But you can't bring your bad days to work. No matter how you feel about what is going on, you need to be positive. Your attitude will be absorbed and replicated by everyone around you: if you are positive, no matter the situation, your people will be as well. If you are negative, they will be negative. This doesn't mean you need to be a grinning, hail fellow well met irrespective of the situation. But a 'we can overcome, despite any situation' very often becomes true simply because of the attitude of the leader. What is certain is that if you convey the perception that things are 'bad,' they will be.

Part and parcel with that positive attitude is conveying that you enjoy your job, that you enjoy working with your people, that you like the organization, the company. Again, the flip side is that you send the signal that you aren't having fun, that you 'don't enjoy it here.' Well, if you don't, why would anyone else? And if they don't enjoy it, not only will they not work hard and not try hard, they will leave when they get an opportunity. Conversely, people who enjoy their work, their team-mates, their environment are more likely to try hard to make certain it thrives. Your job is to engender that feeling. And it is often as simple as making it clear that you enjoy going to work on Monday morning, that you really want to meet with your people, that you enjoy talking to them and helping them succeed.

Be careful managing your time. Letting yourself be buried in paperwork or e-mails will not only send a poor signal to your people, it also leaves your trapped inside your office. So, eliminate the paperwork that isn't essential (and remember to push back with your boss if you think you can reduce paperwork flowing up); delegate paperwork that can be more easily completed by someone else; and manage your e-mail. Make sure that someone else also sees your business e-mails (and get your personal e-mails dumped into a personal folder). If not, then you will become both a bottleneck – all e-mails from above must pass through you, and if there is a task from the boss and you aren't at your desk it will be stopped until you get back to your desk – which can turn a routine task into a crisis. There are many "leaders" who place great stock in being 'on distro' from senior leadership and closely guard their e-mail prerogatives; this is a good thing if they want to be chained to their desk AND the e-mails being passed around contain information and comments that they shouldn't. So, tell your peers to clean up the e-mails, take out derogatory comments, and put others on distro for your e-mails.

Get out of the office. And make sure others see you doing it. If you work out, make sure you go during lunch. Encourage others. Go for a run (or walk if you don't run). Working out, keeping in shape isn't just beneficial for your body, it can help you clear your head, let you focus on something else so that you don't fixate on one problem. Things invariably looks different after some time out of the office. One thing is certain, telling everyone that they are encouraged to work out and that it is part of the corporate culture of fitness, then sitting behind your desk 12 hours per day and sending out tasks with answers due at 1 PM (making it impossible to leave the office for lunch or a run, etc.) sends a clear signal that the 'culture of fitness' is a line but isn't really meant to be believed.

You are probably a Type A, that is why you find yourself in a leadership position.  If you aren't a Type A, all the pressure in the corporate environment will push you in that direction. There is nothing necessarily wrong with having a Type A personality, but you mustn't overdo it. More importantly, you want to make sure that you send the signal to your people to work smart, not hard. Send this signal early, and when you need your people to work smart AND hard they will.

Enjoy being in charge, you will find it can be the most rewarding experience of your life. And you will find that you can enjoy the ride even more if you set the example and let others enjoy their jobs – their ride – as well.


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