At the top of the leadership ladder there is nothing to hold on to
Can you hear your people?
Getting to be the boss is sometimes not at all what you thought it was going to be like. You figuratively move up the ladder and the higher you step the less of a hand rail. It can be outright lonely and while you are moving up, there is less and less support to hold on to. The stress rises and you are really missing feedback where you really stand with people. Watch out, because what you do hear may be carefully chosen, pre-filtered, and sometimes outright blatantly incorrect information. Candor gets rarer and rarer.
When you do a great job at work there is a good chance that you will progress up the career ladder. Before you know it you manage people, a department, and perhaps the whole company. All of a sudden it is like you have moved from one aisle in parliament to the other. People who used to be your colleagues are now your direct reports and their eyes are on you as well as from the people whom you report to. Game on: You are no longer one of them.
Before you know it your stomach is in a knot because you may not know whom and what you can trust anymore. You lose your bearing because part of your compass is gone. Why do you think celebrities and really rich and successful CEO’s are in the news about their sometimes questionable public behaviors and organizational decisions? They too fall victim to this phenomenon. Sure, some folks cannot help themselves and it is their ego and narcissistic behavior that rightfully gets them into trouble. It just does not apply to the vast majority of leader-managers.
Does this sound like you? Painful, isn’t it? One powerful example how a successful manager avoided this dead end situation, was that he had been lucky enough to have an ex monk on staff. In the book titled “The CEO and the Monk” the monk became the spiritual adviser to the CEO more or less due to a variety of coincidences. Any of the CEO’s decisions – good, bad, or indifferent – had an impact on the organization and the monk provided extremely candid feedback that no one else felt safe conveying. The CEO was thus able making more long term sustainable decisions with a high degree of employee morale. He had a nice check and balance system that allowed him to stay his true North course.
You need not look for a monk online in order to keep a well working support structure for yourself. With a few strategies you can do just as well on your own.
Listen well. Actually, what comes before that is to simply park your ego and ponder how you can make the life of your people better. When you do this the better listening part comes all but automatically. What does park your ego mean? Do not take yourself so seriously. It is not whether or not you succeed; it is about that your job is such that your team and team members succeed.
Seek candid feedback. Sounds easier said than done. Then again, you have the greatest impact on this. Candor can only happen when there is a trustworthy and safe environment for the people to actually share how they really feel and what they think is the best path moving on forward. That is your choice. Nothing is worse than reaming people out, chastising them in front of others, taking their information and immediately turning it on them or others, and many more of such examples destroy trust (remember: trust is what your organization sells and needs in order to survive and thrive). You just managed to never again get a good picture of what is going on again.
Walk through the office and shop floor from wall to wall. Get to know your folks. You think you may not have time, well, then make time. Not only is it good for your health to get up and move around at least every 90 minutes, but you have the prime opportunity to bond with people on a personal level. Sometimes you will notice people struggling with their jobs, calls, the striking scanner or printer. Help out and while you are at it you may want to ask what one the one most important thing that needs to change is in order for the department or company to survive. Be ready to do something with the knowledge and provide feedback.
When you mutter the words “open door policy” mean them. If your door is only left open because you like a fresh breeze or you like the view, I see some really intense self-reflecting and re-adjusting in your near future, or your chair may be facing a different occupant soon. Seriously, so much has been written about how important it is providing genuine and sincere one-on-one time for your employees. Put the phone on do not disturb, look at the team member and not your oh-so-important paperwork or Outlook schedule. Be there in the moment with the one who interrupted her day to speak with you. This is show time for some candor and fertile ground for growth of you, the employee and the organization.
Speak with your peer supervisors and leadership. Often, the people reporting to you would rather confide in other people. No need to get upset about this (remember? Park your ego!). Embrace the trust that your fellow manager enjoys. You two can really do wonders for the employees and the organization if you are using the information wisely and to the benefit of everyone. You can help the other supervisor by returning the favor. Keep in mind that the common denominator for all of the above measures is trust.
This is no time for favorites. Favorites are for TV shows, movies and perhaps sports. Here you do not want to only listen and speak to people that you are the most familiar with, or that you like dealing with the most. Favoritism will no doubt to an unsustainable form of leadership. People who need to listen to you all the time, will only do so reluctantly and at the end tell you what they think you want to hear. On the other side of the spectrum, folks that you normally do not speak with you, will be even less likely speaking with you if you do not make the effort first.
Did you get the gist of this one? Sure you did. Candor flourishes when you as the leader allow for it to happen without any, and I mean any, repercussions. Provide a safe, ethical and positive environment and you will be amazed how many problems seem to fix themselves. It is like nailing guard rails to your success ladder. There is no way but up for your team, you, and the organization and you finally have a built-in support system.