The word “leader” can carry plenty of weight in the workplace.
It can also be misleading.
In my years of experience, I have seen people who are not in official leadership positions still be very effective leading employees.
By the same token, having an official leadership title doesn’t make one a leader. Some “leaders” don’t live up to that moniker.
Today, I wanted to give you five identifying traits of both high-performing employees and underperforming leaders.
Here are some telltale signs when a leader isn’t being a leader:
— “That’s above my pay grade” is a statement used by a leader not to looking to lead. Of course, employees understand that their supervisor may not be the ultimate decision-maker on everything. However, the statement “It’s above my pay grade” is basically an excuse not to dig deeper, explain better or to take up the situation.
— Saying “I can’t get in the middle of that.” This is a rationalization. Here is an example: A person works for a large corporation and their role is to lead the division. There is a situation at corporate that impacts this person’s division. The president of the division would like it resolved one way. However, they state to another person “they don’t want to get in the middle.” If the leader is truly a leader, they get in the middle if it will help their division. It is called leading with character over comfort.
— Passing the buck. This is when a leader basically points the finger at someone or something. This can be the top leader blaming the board of directors, a leader blaming the top leadership, etc. This creates an “us/them” mentality. At times a leader will complain when employees that report to them go over their heads to a higher-ranking leader. Why did they do that? Because the leader has set the tone that he or she can’t make any decisions, training their employees to seek out the people who actually can help them. When a direct supervisor blames his or her ‘”no” to on someone else, employees feel they need to explain their question further. Leaders must own the “yes” to people just as much as the “no.”
— Not walking the talk. A leader must role model all rules that others are asked to follow. If the leader, for example, parks in an area reserved for customers, the parking rules go out the window from that point on. If a leader does not lead by example, no matter what is said or written, he or she loses their values. Values are caught as much as they are taught.
— Taking the wins and giving away the losses. Employees know who does the work. When a leader takes credit for other people’s work, people notice. When a loss happens, and the same leader points fingers or passes blame, that’s noticed, too. Best-selling author James Collins’ research on leadership shows that the most effective leaders give credit to others for the wins and take ownership of the losses.
What about the person who is not in an official leadership position who shows true leadership? What are these characteristics?
— They lead by example. Let’s say a ticket taker at a Blue Wahoos game has a family come up and after frantically looking for their tickets they quickly realize they have lost them. He could say, “There’s nothing I can do” or send them off to someone else to handle the problem, or he could take care of the situation, letting the family in and handling it himself. These people find solutions.
— They coach co-workers. Even when someone does not report to them, they will coach or, at times, constructively call out a co-worker. For example, if they notice a new co-worker not following rules, they will quickly say, “this is how we do it here.” If they see a more experienced co-worker not following a process, they will explain why the process needs to be followed. They are proactive about bringing a situation to leadership that if a leader was not made aware of could lead to negative consequences.
— They act as owners. They treat resources as their own. Last month, the new staff was being trained at our new Bodacious Shops in Janesville, Wisc. The trainer talked about creating a strong, positive culture and one of the new hires said “Nice to hear. I hope they walk the talk.” Brennah, an employee at the Pensacola shops who was in Janesville to help train staff, stepped up and said, “It is up to us to walk the talk.” Very quickly she stepped up and showed leadership and made a strong point to this person. Each person must own his or her own performance.
— They own customer experience. They realize that the customer is the key and they step up to take care of them no matter what. This can be owned all the time, not just in a certain role at a certain time.
Title or not, we can all be leaders and create a more productive workplace culture. However, it is sad to see the negative impact people in leadership have when they fall into some bad habits.
If you’re not a leader, you can still lead. And if you are a leader, make sure you’re living up to the name.