Last week I was the kick-off presenter at a Critical Care Nursing Symposium. I encouraged attendees to lead in such a way as to create a space in which people can rise up to their highest potentials. The opposite of such leadership is the authoritarian boss who position bullies others into compliance. I challenged the audience to consider how their coworkers might describe them; the description would be based in what they are consistently saying and doing, not whatever thoughts they carry about themselves. The key is to match our behaviors to the fabulous human being we think we are, or are striving to be.
In his article, “Organizational Communication: the Story of a Label”, W. Charles Redding schools readers on the history of the leadership balancing act: “As early as 1945, a manager published an article in Supervision in which he announced that the foreman’s job is essentially a “selling” job: in order to “win the cooperation of his workers” (Pigors, 1949:80). In the following year Corson’s (1946) much celebrated article posed the provocative question: “Management – Tongue-Tied, Deaf and Blind?” [In these and other articles] readers are to note “the facts” and “the truth” are to be explained not to managers, but to employees.”
The implication is the leadership team is the keepers of the facts and the truth, while front line employees are not and need to be educated on both as part of the leadership sales responsibility. As employees come to understand the challenges faced by managers and supervisors, will they be more cooperative and work harder? Probably, but only if they WANT to be cooperative and work harder. One manager I talked with last week shared his current favorite line: “I’m not ready to be responsible for the payroll of 120 people, so I’m going to do it the way we are directed to do it. If that doesn’t work for some reason, let me know and I will address the issue. Until then, though, unless YOU are ready to be responsible for your own company and employees, I’m asking you to follow the work instruction on every job.” For now, this explanation seems to make sense to people.
Consistently sharing information is necessary if front line workers are to feel as if they know what is going on and believe they are respected by the leadership team. In my Difficult Conversations training last week, one participant commented on her evaluation, “I now understand how important consistency is in my leadership style. I’m going to return to work and completely re-brand myself in my supervisor role.” Her goal will take time – she’s already trained them to expect inconsistent leadership. If they are to trust the change is real, I estimate it will take about three months before they are aware things “feel different”.
This week pay attention to your leadership style and how that might impact how you are branding yourself as a leader: shutting people down to recreate your ideas, or leading them into the successful future of the company? If you are not in a leadership role, remember this: you don’t have to be the leader to lead. Brand yourself as a hard-working employee who consistently meets performance expectations with a positive attitude. No matter what role we fill, walking in the shoes of other roles helps us communicate more effectively and hopefully brand ourselves as coworkers who care about the success of others as much as we care about our own success.