Today I’ll be continuing on with my list of my observations that can make or break a leader. Again, these are my own observations and opinions. I’ll probably toss in any research that I know of that supports those opinions, but in many cases, these are just my own feelings. Also, these aren’t really in any specific order. They’re just here as they come to me.
6. Be Fair and Honest with your Employees – When a new person would come on board with me, I’d always take a couple of minutes to talk to him or her about this. I’d always say, “I’ll be honest with you. I will probably be the best boss you’ve ever had, or the biggest jerk you’ve ever dealt with. If you’re on the up and up with me, I will be too.” The key to this is that you have to check your worries about your career at the door. Expect to get into a tangle with upper-management or your peers, but if your employees have earned your protection, give it to them like a pit-bull. One of my experiences involved a confrontation with a vice-president who’d gotten me to promise a group of employees a free lunch, if they worked a 12 hour shift at a point when we really needed them to, in order to get a shipment out. Then he turned around and reneged his part of the deal in a meeting with me. When I stood up to him and said, “Someone’s buying my shipping crew lunch tomorrow, and if it’s me, you can be damned sure they’ll know that.” It made life harder with him, but I found out later that it bought me points with his boss.
7. Be willing to be wrong or make a mistake – A lot of young managers get into this cycle of stress. A new manager is going to make a lot of mistakes in their job, but they feel like they can’t let themselves be seen as being wrong in front of their employees. However, you’re human, just like the people who work for you. If you allow your employees to make mistakes and learn from them, when you fall down, they’re going to be willing to forgive you. When something breaks, start fixing it. Don’t start trying to figure how to keep anyone from seeing that it happened. When you need help, go get it.
8. Recognize that all of your employees are different – This sounds really easy, but it’s dismissed too quickly by many managers. All of your employees are going to have different strengths and weaknesses. Learn to leverage those best. I’m not saying to molly-coddle your employees, but if an employee is really deficient in one area and it’s not absolutely necessary that they be exemplary there, don’t force them to be. You also need to learn what motivates each one of your employees. Earlier, I talked about intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. You need to figure out what motivates who and use that to your advantage.
9. Do not rely on your own memory – I don’t care how good you think your memory is, it’s not good enough to remember everything that every employee has done over the last year. There are two psychological artifacts that you can remember that will help you understand this. One is Recency (the natural tendency to remember only the most recent things) and Primacy (the natural tendency to remember the first thing you were presented with). This means that if you rely on your memory, you’ll only rate people based on your first impressions and on what you recall in the last couple of weeks. If your employees are bright, they know when their performance evaluations are, and they’ll be perfect angels about two weeks before them. Do yourself a favor and carry a pad of post-it notes with you while you’re working. When you see something (positive or negative) make a note, write the date, then stick in a file at the end of the day. When the review rolls around, you’ll have a lot of information to draw on.
10. Be aware of the signals that you send – I’ve not been all that great on this one in the past, but it’s something I’m working on. If you’re talking to an employee, be in that moment. Don’t look at your watch, or appear to be ignoring them. Even if you’re really not interested in what they’re saying, at least look like you are. If you’re fiddling with something and not paying attention, employees will pick up on that. All of this also goes into how you carry yourself. If you’re not happy with a fellow supervisor or manager, keep that hidden. If you send the signal that there’s dissention, that will let your employees think that it’s okay for them to fight amongst themselves, or–worse–play your fellow manager off against you.