Being a leader can be enormously rewarding. If leaders embrace their role, they can positively impact those they lead and the organization in which they work. Good leaders create an environment where people can contribute their best efforts. They also directly affect the talent pipeline of their organizations. Leadership is not for the faint of heart. Are you stepping up, stepping in, or stepping out in your leadership?
Leaders who step up recognize and embrace their responsibility to lead and tackle their opportunities for improvement. Nobody comes into any role knowing everything they need to succeed. That includes leadership positions. Stepping up means showing up as a leader, not a doormat or a dictator. Passive leaders miss opportunities to help themselves by helping the people they lead to succeed. And aggressive leaders who run roughshod over employees destroy employee engagement, morale, and loyalty. Both types of leaders do nothing to build a better bench for their organizations. Yet, it is a delicate balance to navigate but not impossible.
William Shakespeare, in Henry V, wrote, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends.” Stepping in means proactively leading. Yes, humans are challenging to deal with, yet that is one of the critical aspects of leadership, motivating and inspiring people on the job. There will be drama; it is inevitable when dealing with people. Direct reports need to see their leader actively engaged. The best way is to roll up one’s sleeves and work alongside them, especially when there is a critical deadline. Another way is to be present, proactively engage with employees and be responsive to their requests and concerns. The saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is particularly relevant for leaders.
These leaders are essentially absent. They may still clock in and get a paycheck. Now, they may even be good at the administrative or operational side of the job. But they avoid issues that leaders need to address, partly because they lack the skills and often the confidence because they lack the skills. These leaders essentially abandon their team members, leaving them out when making decisions that impact the team. They become defensive when employees raise concerns about their leadership and are poor collaborators. When leadership ignores problems, or those problems go unaddressed, employees lose trust and respect for the leadership and start disengaging. These leaders can create lasting damage. Organizations cannot afford to have poor leaders in today’s talent climate.
It has long been reported that people do not leave their jobs; they leave managers. I recently had an opportunity to witness that very phenomenon. I went to check out at a store with a clerk instead of the automated checkout, and I said I wanted to support her ability to have a job. She shrugged and said, “it doesn’t matter because I am quitting today anyway.” The attitude caught me off-guard, and I told her I was sorry to hear that. She rang up my items, and I asked if she already had something else lined up. She said, “no,” and then motioned with her head toward an individual standing at the end of the checkout lines. I asked her if that was the manager, and she nodded yes. I then asked if that manager was why she was leaving, and she nodded yes.
We can all agree that employees are not perfect; they come with their own set of issues. And I do not know what was done to support the above employee. It could be an instance of a leader stepping out. I have seen some remarkable turnarounds in leaders I have worked with, so I know learning to deal with challenging employees and today’s workforce is more than possible. It is also possible to shift one’s leadership style to bring out the best performance in most employees.
Stepping up and stepping in are foundational to good leadership. And to do it well requires skills and confidence. Please get in touch with us to learn how we can help you start stepping up, stepping in, and stop stepping out.
Sue Kenfield, M.A., leads transformative initiatives with her clients to build agile and resilient organizations by strengthening leadership, increasing talent retention, decreasing conflict, enhancing human capital, and aligning organizational strategy.