Assuming a Leadership Role

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It’s finally happened. The boss listened to your repeated requests for more responsibility and granted you the lead position on an important new project. Or after working your way up through the ranks, you’ve been promoted into a management position. Whatever the scenario, if you are assuming a leadership role there are several important things to remember. One, your days of gossiping by the water cooler are over, as is your habit of taking an occasional extended lunch. You now have a professional, managerial image to maintain. Two, don’t crap on the little people. They were your friends and co-workers until recently. Now you are their boss, but like the old saying goes, the toes you step on today might be connected to the butt you have to kiss tomorrow. Being successful in your new role is all about relationships.

“The number one factor that will contribute to a person’s success is their capacity to build and to leverage a network of relationships, and the higher you ascend in an organization, the more critical those skills become,” said Scott Blanchard, executive director of Client Services, The Ken Blanchard Companies. “I’ve found that the biggest challenge for people who are in a technical field is they lose sight of or never realize the fact that it’s all about the people and the relationships. That’s the bottom line. It’s not about implementing the newest technology, though of course that stuff matters, as does getting the job done. It’s about building those relationships. The step from a manager to a leader is seeing and understanding how to do that.”

If this is your first foray into a leadership position, Blanchard said it’s also important to figure out what things work in your favor and what things get in the way in terms of building relationships with colleagues, co-workers, the boss, direct reports and/or customers. There is no black-and-white prescription for success, but you are influencing others behavior. Therefore, cultivate or take advantage of any innate skill you might have to build effective relationships. If you lack the innate ability, don’t worry. Leadership skills can be learned, particularly if you remain open to feedback from those around you.

“What causes relationships to fail is the presence of four different things,” Blanchard explained. “Criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. There’s a continuum there. There’s unwilling to receive influence on the front end, and on the other end of the continuum is actually seeking out feedback, people’s input and perspectives, nurturing the relationship and moving toward people rather than away, making yourself vulnerable, that sort of thing.”

When working side by side in your new leadership capacity, ask yourself questions to ensure you are focused not just on the job at hand but the people whose performance you are seeking to enhance: Who are the people I’m dealing with? What are they up to in their lives? What are their goals? Am I helping them or hindering them? Am I a positive in their lives or not? If not, how can we make things better? Blanchard said managers and leaders who are curious and interested in those answers tend to build more effective relationships. Asking these types of questions doesn’t mean being friends per se. But if that’s what you want and it won’t interfere with work, great. Instead, this type of questioning is a more purposeful and more professionally motivated and executed information gathering exercise to build relations between you, the new leader, and your direct reports.

“People want to be respected as human beings,” Blanchard said. “That’s a big deal. They want to be treated as an individual. They want to have their company focus on their growth and development, and they want to have the tools that they need to get their job done. It’s that simple. If you’re somebody who wants to get into management, or who is in management, it’s really important to think about that. To what degree am I respecting people as human beings? To what degree am I treating them as individuals? Every person that you come into contact with has a problem that you don’t know about. To what degree do you treat that person as if they have challenges and problems? We do a lot of coaching here, a ton of it, and it’s amazing how many people tolerate an enemy at work or somebody who’s mean to them or doesn’t give them what they need or doesn’t treat them as an individual, doesn’t care about what they think or feel. It’s amazing the effect that has on cooperation, team work, customer service and that kind of thing. My father’s (Ken Blanchard) art form has been to give people simple truths that can be very powerful in their lives. And one of the best ways to do it is to start out with what you’re trying to achieve, and catch yourself and catch other people doing things right.”

If you need to correct one of your direct reports, do so respectfully and in a way that honors who they are as a human being. Not only is it the right thing to do, various research studies have shown that people’s relationship with their managers or supervisors has a direct effect on their level of engagement and productivity, and there’s a big distinction between employee satisfaction and somebody staying in a job. “A bad relationship with the boss does not make people quit, but it makes them do the minimum,” Blanchard said. “The crisis that we’re seeing today is not that people are quitting and running away. The job market isn’t that great. What they’re doing is staying. They’re working for bosses that they don’t feel valued by, and they’re doing a half-ass job. That’s the real problem. Leadership is often about getting clear on where you’re going. The second thing is really being deliberate about how you’re helping through positive messages, catching people doing things right and how you carefully use your corrective language and messages with people. It’s pretty simple, but it’s incredibly hard.”

-Kellye Whitney, kellyew@certmag.com

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