Leadership Means Being Relevant

happy-customersI was listening to Wharton Radio on Sirius/XM last week and a listener was calling to complain about an unmotivated, know it all subordinate.  Quickly into the discussion, it became apparent that the problem was with the manager as much as the employee.  The caller twice interrupted the host who was suggesting potential course of action to dismiss their ideas as trite.

It got me thinking about qualities that are important for leaders that are softer than the traditional inspirational, honest, competent and forward-thinking attributes that are indisputably the key ones and I kept thinking about relevance.  The idea is a leader needs to be able to relate to their team and the situations that they face.

In too many cases, leaders lack the emotional intelligence to understand the situation they are in and how to find a positive solution for all involved.  In the case above, the caller had the audacity to tell her subordinate to look in the mirror when she told him he was defensive.  She clearly did not understand the person she was talking to and was not self-aware of her strengths and weaknesses.  She could not relate.

This is especially important when you lead people across the traditional generational classifications.  You need to figure out how to relate to each person on a personal and direct level as well as understand the cultural, experiential, and demographic differences between you and your team and work to bridge them.  You also need to understand how each person views their job, tasks, goals, and values.

At the same time, you need to be vulnerable to your team and explain where you are coming from.  People in today’s workforce do not respect nor accept “because I said so”.  You need to be able to relate your goals to them in ways to make them want to follow you.

You also need to understand that you are an important figure in your team’s life for a few reasons.  One of course is that you control their professional livelihood.  You also act as the moral compass for your team.  You also their window into what upper management values as an ideal employee.

If your experience, personality and attitude are not relevant to the position you hold, you will never be viewed as a leader.

Learn to Let It Go

let-it-go-frozenNo, I was not watching Frozen this weekend, but rather was thinking about the unrest that festers in the workplace.  More and more people are feeling slighted and holding onto these perceived slights to the detriment of their health and the health of their team.

Instead of moving forward and working towards common goals, people are pushing their agenda to vindicate that they feel are affronts to their character, intellect or abilities.  Many times, the anger stems from a manager’s criticism of their work.  Other times it is because a company decides to fund or green light a competing project.

If you are going to be a true leader, you are going to need to work through these issues and get your team back on track.  Much like parenting every child is different, dealing with an “insulted” team member is unique.  You are going to need to:

  1. Have Two Way Communication. Most grudges happen over miscommunications.  You need to speak openly, honestly, and respectfully so the person understands where you are coming from and that you understand their position as well.  Speaking from the mountain top does not help heal wounds.
  2. Forgive, But Not Forget. You need to be the bigger person as the leader.  Forgive the person who wronged you or accept the apology of someone who slighted you.  But also learn from the experience- both about how you could have handled it better and how you can manage through the situation better with that colleague.  Don’t repeat the same mistakes.
  3. Keep It Close to Your Vest. The lasting thing that needs to happen is for the disagreement to go public and have people choose sides.  That may work in movies, but in business, chasms are really hard to close and overcome.  The end result is a poorly functioning team where no one wins.  Here is an obvious lesson, but needs to be said if you are asked which side you are on, simply state that you are Switzerland.

As a leader, you need to massage egos all day to get what you want accomplished.  Do not let yours be the biggest in the room.  Stay focused, grounded, and engaged to keep your team working well.