All of us have grown up surrounded by people who have led us on our journey toward adulthood. Through their eyes, we saw what we had to do in the world to live a happy life. Many of us have played sports or engaged in some sort of team experience. For me it was dance and theater.
My teachers and directors filled the role of “coach” for myself and all the participants in the productions. These leaders taught me my craft and coached me to becoming the best I could be.
My parents, specifically my mother, taught me about life. That’s where we learn our life skills, right? Our parents taught us and led us through our formative years teaching us the golden rule, and all the other goodies we need to survive in our society.
And that’s what I did. I lived my life to create society’s vision of the American dream. The dutiful husband, two beautiful kids, the big house, the stable career. I had it all!
Then I entered the workplace and started doing what I was taught. I learned to complete tasks accurately and efficiently. I took responsibility for the workload I was given and went above and beyond in an effort to move up.
Not unlike my experiences in dance & theater, I was taught how to do my job by the people I reported to and my new peers.
But it didn’t work. I was missing an essential piece and looking back, it was consistent across my career. Those who taught were great teachers.
What they lacked was leadership. I witnessed leadership at the executive levels, but not at the lower levels.
Occasionally there was the natural born leader, but the tools of my corporate career existed solely in learning and completing tasks. Great managers were promoted, but leaders have been overlooked due to their inability to micro manage.
How do I know? I was a manager and I did leadership all wrong.
Every day I viewed the work and micromanaged my employees into what they missed, what they did wrong, and why did they do it that way? “I’ve told you we need to do it this way.
No wonder they didn’t listen to me. I never had anything good to say.
When I had an employee who asked LOTS of questions I was excited! They wanted to learn! I could teach and mold them to think the same way I thought.
But the unique perspective, the one coming from the person who I nit-picked every day, I ignored.
Looking back, I know I created a loss for my company. A miss step in potential sales.
There’s one particular employee I gave a really hard time. Let’s call him “Mike”.
I didn’t like Mike in the interview. He came across as extremely arrogant to me.
There’s a question I ask in every interview: “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?” The answer is simple. “Ask for help.”
I dropped hints left and right, up and down, and in circles around him. After about 8 different responses from him in the form of “I’ll do what ever I need to do to figure it out”, I finally said to him something like – “There’s no one around to ask. What do you do?” Out came a reluctant “I ask for help.” It was like pulling teeth. There was no way I was hiring this person. Mike was arrogant and didn’t recognize the lengths of coaching I was giving him.
Yet other 2 people who interviewed him did like him. And he was hired. Mike was now my employee.
What added to my struggles with Mike, was a new, shiny, eager to learn employee who started the same day – Eddie.
In my eyes, Eddie was a ROCK STAR. He learned FAST. He was constantly asking questions. He was eager to impress!
As a result, Eddie received much of my attention. By the time I got to Mike, I found myself becoming frustrated with his lack of questions, his slow and careful ability to learn, and his inability to capture my attention in the same manner Eddie did.
This continued for a few weeks. Then my boss called me into his office.
He had a discussion with Mike and Mike told my boss he didn’t think I liked him.
He was right. I didn’t.
My boss explained me how Mike felt. How can you come to work every day when your boss is bearing down on you and not creating a conducive environment to learning? “Put yourself in his shoes.” Yeah, I understood what he was telling me.
What shocked my boss is this issue was with ME. I’m the laid-back, go with the flow manager who can make almost anything work.
I tried to point out that Eddie is great and all the fabulous things he does to learn.
Then my boss reminded me – Mike is not Eddie.
I took Mike out of the office to a neutral environment. We talked. I told him I thought he was arrogant in the interview. I told him it was difficult for me to see a future for him in the office when he didn’t show the same enthusiasm as Eddie. I laid all of my issues with him on the line. He gave me his feedback as well. We cleared the air.
In the end, I apologized to Mike. Mike turned out to be one of the best employees I had ever had the pleasure of working with. He had great thoughts on how and where we should do things differently from conventional thought – and he was almost always right.
This was a huge lesson for me. You never know where someone’s strengths lie. You may have to dig to find them. When you do find those strengths, you can empower your employees to do anything!
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