I can be tough on leaders. My last two columns have been focused on how leaders can do better: First a column on changing the feel of end-of-year meetings, and second was a call on owners to be sure they are measuring and analyzing the skill sets of their leaders, not just their front-line employees.
I fully understand that leadership is a tough task. This is true for all people in a leadership role and especially for those in what is often referred to as “middle management.” Just the name alone, middle management, makes clear they have people they supervise but they are also supervised.
Research shows that employees want a leader who cares about them as person. They want a leader who has empathy. James Collins, author of Good to Great, encourages organizations to conduct an autopsy without blame when things just don’t go as planned. He finds that people are more willing to share items in a safe environment. I imagine every person reading this can agree that this type of culture is healthy and creates better outcomes.
I don’t need a study to know that if we reversed this – it’s safe to assume that a supervisor enjoys his or her job much more if the employees care about them.
For this topic, I’m taking a line from my friend Rick Farris: “We want forgiveness for ourselves and justice for others.” Today’s column is for those who work for someone. Treat your supervisor how you want to be treated.
We can sometimes fall in the trap of comparing our supervisor to perfection that may not exist. I was speaking at a conference one day and a few managers came up to me to share their disappointment in their company’s CEO. I knew the CEO and organization well. This CEO had been in place a long time. So these managers start bringing up issues. They wished the CEO was more charismatic. He needed to improve his communication.
When they finished, I asked them what they liked about their supervisor. They said he was honest, he worked hard and he was authentic. I added that this CEO was very committed to development (after all, these employees were at this development conference because the CEO sent them.) I told them that I had met their CEO and would rate him among the best. Charisma is great, but is it more important than honest, hard-working, or authentic? Likely not.
This can be translated much like a customer complaint. I get a lot of feedback about our fan experience at Blue Wahoo games - some positive, some negative. Sometimes a fan will find me at a game and share their disappointment. I listen, then explain that I want to fix the situation.
However, before I do that I ask them if they are willing to answer a few questions. The upset fan usually says yes. I then ask about a number of items at the stadium. Typically, their experience is very positive in many aspects I ask about. It also helps them realize there is a lot more “good” than the one item they are upset about.
Whether its problems with a supervisor or customer complaints, often times we realize that once we take a look at the big picture, the problem seems smaller and much more solvable. Be sure you’re looking at a body of work, not one instance.
Yes, there will be times when your leader disappoints you. There will be times you will feel they could have handled a situation better. But treat them the way you want to be treated.
You would like to be given the benefit of the doubt as an employee, right? So ask yourself: Do you treat your boss the same way?
Here are five ways to help employees take a step back and objectively assess their situation with their supervisor and their company.
— List five positive characteristics about your company and five more about your supervisor.
— Don’t compare your boss to one you read about or compare your boss to someone you have never worked for. Think about magazine cover models, just without make up. The grass is not always greener on the other side.
— Figure out when you last took time to thank your manager for something they did.
— Don’t judge or join the gossip parade when your manager does something you are not happy about. Go direct. You may feel different after the conversation.
— Ask yourself: When was the last time you wrote your boss a nice note? If it has not happened in the last six months, write one.
Being a leader is difficult. Being in the middle is even more difficult. In the midst of your own daily grind at the workplace, take a second to empathize with anyone in a supervisory role.