January 7, 2016
My consulting journey emerged from having spent over 20 years working for a Fortune 100 company. However, my role was not as an executive, business unit manager, or human resources professional. I was a blue-collar line worker in a food processing plant, doing everything from packing product, stacking skids, driving a forklift, and tearing down equipment for sanitation on Friday nights.
My experience–working at the bottom of a large organization to now working with middle to C-Suite managers–has given me this insight: Much workplace drama erupts due to the frontline supervisors’ and middle managers’ lack of leadership development.
New leaders get promoted due to their high performance or technical skills. The benefit is that they know the job, and they have the respect of their peers. The disadvantage is that they have had no leadership experience and very little development or training.
Why Leadership Development Fails
But what explains the company that does provide leadership development and finds their new leaders still struggle with absenteeism, turnover and trust issues? Why is it that you can send a new leader to a workshop, where he or she seems to “get it,” but then put them into reality and all the learning is washed down the drain?
The answer is this: We all know the right answer when we are in the workshop. In other words, when we are watching on the sidelines, or when we are in a leadership retreat, it all seems so easy. But in real life, all new leaders seem to get sucked into the myths about leadership. Here are three of those leadership myths and the realities all leaders must face when they accept the role.
Myth #1 – If my employees like me, they will be loyal
When new leaders transition from being “one of us” to “one of them” overnight, they still identify with being an employee rather than being a leader. They try to befriend employees or overlook areas that need to be addressed.
Reality: Employees need a fair leader, not a biased friend. Mess up one time too many, and you contribute to a lack of trust, low morale and other forms of workplace drama that are easily avoided. Be OK with the fact that you may lose some friends in order to gain leadership respect.
Myth #2 – I have to know everything
New leaders often try too hard to prove their intelligence. They think they have to know the answer and have the final word. As a result, they don’t seek valuable input or give enough credit to the people actually doing the jobs.
Reality: If you want to increase engagement, stop trying to figure it all out and simply ask more questions. Your employees have great ideas about how to save time, improve efficiencies, change an ineffective schedule and so on. Your employees want to contribute! Be willing to not be the smartest person in the room and see what happens.
Myth #3 – I have to have an open door policy
Many leaders who talk about having an open door policy also experience long work hours trying to catch up or complete their own work due to ineffective boundaries and constant interruptions. Their days are spent listening to irrelevant problems and complaints that could be solved if the employee would only embrace personal responsibility and empowerment.
Reality: You can still be highly accessible to your employees and establish good boundaries about your open door. There are literally dozens of options, including setting specific hours, setting priorities and training employees to come to you with ideas and solid thought processes rather than coming to you to rescue them from their discomforts.
All of the latest research and evidence says that people join an organization, but they leave a supervisor. In fact, the number one reason an employee leaves is due to the relationship issues with their direct supervisor.
Bottom line: Leadership is never as easy as it looks from the sidelines. One of the best ways to learn about who you are and grow into the person you want to be is to accept the challenge of becoming a leader, and then successfully navigate around the three leadership myths that threaten to sink your ship.