“You are going to have to decide what type of leader you want to be.” This is one of the critical thoughts I use to open conversations with new team members striving toward a first management position.
This comment is usually met with a blank stare and comes across to most as jarring. Most want to climb the corporate ladder, as we typically call it, but few come at this first position with any grand vision for what type of manager they want to be.
I opened my career out of college by starting my own independent sales representative organization, thanks to a family friend who took a chance on me and gave me my first opportunity.
Later, I was blessed to move into the housewares industry with a company that had a corporate culture that genuinely valued people. While I didn’t always have inspiring managers guiding me, the overarching culture was rewarding, inspiring and inclusive. It made me feel as if I was part of something larger than myself. It motivated me to strive to be the best while teaching me teamwork with a group of co-workers I could always trust to have my back.
This culture drove loyalty and longevity with staff that, over time, became personally invested. It created team members that I watched make incredible personal sacrifices for the greater good of the team and the organization.
Unknown to me, over time, this culture guided my personal views on what a manager should be and shaped my vision of a strong leader.
From the early days of my career, I developed a list of essential traits, rules that guided me.
• Leaders eat last, wake every day and end every day, with the first and last thought being about the people in your charge. Management is a daunting task as you not only control their livelihood, you control the trajectory of their career, their family and all who are in their care. If every corporate decision you make does not consider this aspect of being a leader, find another career path. (Giving credit where due to inspirational leader Simon Sinek.)
• Bring your authentic self to work all the time, every day. You do you and be proud of who you are. (Giving credit where due, I acquired this trait from an incredible leader named Carla Harris.)
• Have the confidence to challenge leadership respectfully when you have an opinion.
• Have sufficient self-confidence to be challenged respectfully as a leader by subordinates while creating an environment that celebrates independent thought and gives voice to the overall organization.
• Develop empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
• Be willing shift your thinking and admit when you are wrong.
• Be willing to humbly apologize when you’ve made a personal mistake.
• Never treat others differently than how you want to be treated.
• Make the decision, high-pressure, low-pressure, no-pressure, make the decision, own it, and move forward with the consequences.
• Be structured in your approach, creating accountability.
• Most importantly, be good to yourself and those around you, and treat all with equality and goodness.
Don’t guide yourself by my principles; use them as an example for developing your list. Determine your foundation and then use it to establish what type of manager you want to be and constantly test and adjust your principles.
Late in my career, I worked for an organization that had a culture as opposed to my management style and principles as an organization could be. Leadership thrived on a churn them and burn them mentality. I was told you’re not going to make it here, but in time, I not only survived, I thrived and built a new business unit that surprised many while creating a subculture within my team that attracted talent from other company areas. Word spread, and human resource co-workers often shared talk expressing something was different in our team.
My closing point to use your priorities to steer clear of companies that don’t align with your principles. But, if you find yourself in hostile territory, remain faithful to you, your authentic self, and look to the future.