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Adapted from Secrets to Winning at Office Politics by Marie G. McIntyre, Ph.D.
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Your company can make you a manager, but your employees determine whether or not you are a leader. Sadly, many managers fail to see that true leadership has nothing to do with the position they hold. Here’s a definition to remember if you want to excel at leadership: A leader is someone that people choose to follow. Follow, not obey. You can mandate compliance through the power of your position, but only your personal influence will inspire people to go the extra mile and contribute their best efforts. So here are some suggestions for increasing your influence.
1. Realize that you’re a manager, not a monarch.
If you really get off on having an important title, a private office, a big desk, a company car, or other symbols of power, get over yourself. You have a bad case of executive-itis (even if you are only a first-line supervisor). Managers with executive-itis feel they should be deferred to by lesser mortals simply because someone put them in a higher position. No one with executive-itis should ever be allowed to become a manager, although they are usually the first to apply for the job.
2. Worry about being respected, not being liked.
Leadership is not a popularity contest. Successful leaders focus on earning respect, not developing friendships. If employees both respect and like you, that’s great – but if you’re too anxious about their opinions, you’ll have trouble making difficult decisions. So if you have high needs for acceptance, find some fawning friends outside of work. Should this seem to be a persistent and deep-seated problem for you, however, consider whether you really enjoy being a manager. Not everyone does.
3. Learn to encourage positive performance.
Leaders need to accomplish results through the efforts of others. Managers at all levels must therefore be able to set clear goals, appreciate good work, give helpful feedback, and address performance issues. They must also hire the right people and get rid of those who are never going to get with the program. Encouraging positive performance means recruiting people with needed skills and abilities, rewarding work done well, promoting collaboration and teamwork, and eliminating problems that drag down results.
4. Share a vision.
People like to feel that they are part of something larger than the sum of their daily tasks. This is especially true of those who are bright, talented, and motivated. So help employees see how their work relates to the mission of your organization. Let them know what your goals are for the department and how you can work towards them as a team.
5. Appreciate the power of inclusion.
Learn how and when to involve employees in making decisions, because they know more about the work of your department than you do. If you’re a good leader, they will be happy to share their knowledge, and you must also share your knowledge with them. Successful managers realize that they cannot and should not make all the decisions by themselves.
6. Help your employees “be all that they can be”.
Insecure managers fear being overshadowed by exceptional people. Leaders want to have as many exceptional people as possible, since superior performers reflect well on their managers. Some employees simply want to sharpen skills in their current job, while others are motivated by the possibility of doing something more exciting, interesting, or challenging in the future. When you learn about your employees’ goals and help them develop in their desired direction, you will benefit as well.
Successful managers feel comfortable with power and use it wisely. Those who enjoy dominating others or fear using their authority will never cut it as leaders. Truthfully, most people tend to err a little on one side or the other, so learn to recognize your own leadership weaknesses and compensate for them. That’s the only way to become an effective leader and a motivational manager.