Leadership is not about a title or a designation
When I was a sales manager and sales for the month had been especially good, my boss said, “You’re lucky to have found the new sales associate you just hired. She sure brought your sales numbers up this month.”
I could have pointed out that hiring my associate wasn’t luck. She didn’t drop into my lap by accident. Finding her was the result of a vigorous search and interview process that my manager initially complained about because he thought I was taking too long to find the right person.
Or I could have pointed out that my new associate had been on vacation most of the month. I hired her with the understanding that she could go ahead with a previously planned three-week European trip, so she wasn’t even around for the increase in sales.
But I didn’t point out either of these things, because I’d learned from prior experience that my boss was never going to give me the credit I felt I deserved. Arguing that I was the one responsible for the spectacular sales would have been perceived by my manager as trying to hog the limelight or steal the credit.
I felt undervalued and unappreciated, which seems to be a common complaint in the business environment. People want to be recognized for their hard work, complimented when they perform well and acknowledged for their contributions. So why is it that managers so frequently fail to do these things?
I read an internet blog called “50 things retail employees should never do,” which included some good ideas about customer service but drew irate responses from people who worked in retail. One employee said, “If your manager can’t treat associates with respect, don’t expect the team to uphold a good work ethic. We are people just like the customers, and treating us badly won’t help your sales.”
Fortunately for my career and income, my manager left the company and I ended up in a Leadership role I hadn’t anticipated. But with the promotion came the discovery that I could easily slip into making the same mistakes my boss had made if I wasn’t intentional about being a good leader.
A little power can make us feel more important than we are, and a lack of humility can give us the mistaken impression that we are indispensable. Wanting to avoid these traps, I studied everything I could about leadership and outlined a leadership strategy designed to support and retain good people.
I admit I wasn’t always 100% successful at implementing my model for excellent leadership. Sometimes ego or lack of insight got in the way. But working toward those leadership goals made me more aware when I fell short and enabled me a be a much better manager than I would otherwise have been.
Following are the things I outlined as characteristics of a great leader:
A great leader recognizes and nurtures the unique talents and gifts that everyone brings to the table.
A great leader is humble, realizing that some people have more talent that she does in some areas.
A great leader gives credit to others instead of trying to receive all the recognition and credit for success. She is an advocate for her staff.
A great leader is willing to listen to the ideas of others, to take a back seat so others can be in the limelight, to act with integrity and treat people fairly.
A great leader never asks her team to do anything she wouldn’t do.
A great leader builds a climate of cooperation among the staff.
A great leader inspires rather than demands, wins loyalty through being loyal, encourages rather than criticizes.
A great leader genuinely cares about the people she works with.
Trying to meet these lofty leadership goals was challenging, but the effort was worth it. When I left the company, sales results were excellent and there was a spirit of cooperation among employees that customers and people from other organizations noticed. Good people wanted to join our team and retention levels were high.
Although I no longer lead a sales team, I’ve noticed that many of those leadership characteristics spill over into other areas of life. When I joined Medium, I found myself wanting to give lots of claps to writers who inspired and entertained me with their stories.
My thinking went something like this: I know how hard and solitary it is to write, how brave a writer must be to hit Publish, how disappointed we are when we get crickets for our efforts, and what a wonderful opportunity this platform is to be part of a supportive writing community. Why withhold support if someone’s story held my interest and provided me with some new insight?
How does this thinking relate to the leadership characteristics I outlined in my sales job? Although I no longer manage a sales team, I can still support others in their efforts, give credit where credit is due, recognize the unique gifts and talents others bring to the table, be an advocate, and care about someone else’s success. If we are intentional about it, we can exercise these qualities in any arena.
I like these words of life coach, speaker and author Rasheed Ogunlaru: “Some strive to make themselves great. Others help others see and find their own greatness. It’s the latter who really enrich the world we live in.”
What A Bad Boss Taught Me About Good Leadership was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.