Back in the day, when I started my career as a manager of a small team, I panicked. I thought management was all about making sure your resources did not make a mistake, about taking responsibility for their actions, about micromanaging. I equated the relationship of employee + manager to that of a student + teacher. However, over the course of time, with countless lessons and mistakes learned from, I have come to understand that while you can be a good manager, being a leader is an altogether different ball game. In fact, I can go so far as to say that management comes easy, but leadership comes hard, and in today’s fragile corporate world, it’s leadership that is more needed than just management.
Leadership is just like being the head of a family. It’s not about control, but about taking care of everyone in the family. It’s not about taking responsibility for their actions, but empowering them enough to take their own responsibility. Now, after having spent 10 years as a manager, I have acquired and developed some essential leadership qualities that I believe every manager should possess.
Empowerment vs Control
Did you know that 38% of employees hate their bosses and consider them to be horrible? Simply because their bosses take the role of a manager so seriously that they forget to be an empowering leader. Effective leaders do not believe in control. They believe in empowerment. They believe in making their team members capable enough to handle complicated tasks with limited supervision. Micro-management can probably make you look good in front of higher management, but your employees will come to dislike you and may end up leaving the job. You may unwittingly be the cause of high employee turnover and, in the long run, that would definitely not be good for your career. So, if you’re a manager who wants to succeed in the workplace and be liked by both the management and the staff, you need to first learn the art of empowerment.
Empathy vs Criticism
Good leaders know the key to the human heart is kindness. They know that the best potential is achieved through words of motivation and inspiration, rather than through rigid criticism. It’s easy to criticize people, but it’s much more difficult to understand them and enable them to do their best using positive reinforcement. Good leaders also understand the devastating effects of negative criticism vs the effects of constructive criticism. As managers, we may easily fall into the trap of criticizing our employees without pondering over the consequences it may have on them. We fail to understand their predicament and continue in our quest for perfect authoritative control, which leaves a devastating effect on the psyche of our employees.
Flexibility vs Rigidity
Most managers feel it compulsory to impose rigid rules on their employees for the sake of maintaining authoritative control. Little do they know that the more rules are unnecessarily imposed, the more negativity it harbors. Be flexible and develop the ability to see what matters. As a leader, you need to know what your beliefs are and why those beliefs should matter. Note, though, that it may be difficult for you to decide on this if you are faced with a difficult situation or a difficult employee. In such cases, it is always good to ask for additional advice from friends or consultants instead of resorting to taking reactive measures.
For example, one of my own beliefs was that my team members needed to report to work on time, even if they stayed late. I wanted to enforce a culture of coming and going on time so that their work-life balance would not suffer. Little did I know that my assumption of caring for them was actually choking them, since a few of them either had transportation issues or some other problems that prevented them from coming on time. However, when one day a team member got defensive with my insistence on no staying late, I realized that my noble intentions had somehow become draconian rules; especially when they all completed their work on time and were A+ employees. I then chose to let them come within a certain time range, instead of insisting on the fixed-time rule, and that really changed the way they worked with me.
Transparency vs Secrecy
Managers may withhold information from employees for a number of reasons, which could be either personal or official. Of course, you do not want to leak out confidential information, but it is also important for your employees to know where the company is headed and what they should expect from their bosses. Good leaders understand the importance of transparency and ensure that their employees get the right information in the right manner at the right time. This transparency is particularly important when companies go through a hard time or when certain changes are expected. The more transparent you are as a leader, the better your relationship with your employees.
Trust vs Mistrust
I remember clearly the time I was an employee at a huge web design company. My manager was great at her work, but she lacked the ability to trust her team members with complicated tasks. She was a chronic micromanager and could not bear the idea of having any of her team members make their own decisions, whether it was something as small as adding a new color to a piece of graphic or as important as writing a policy document. This drove me and my other colleagues insane. Eventually, we became mere robots and executed her ideas without question. The result? Our department lacked creativity; we were not able to create anything special other than the same old stock ideas, and we were just not happy at our jobs.
If you can’t trust your employees to perform a task well, you are harming the fabric of productivity and creativity. An effective leader trusts his employees to do their best and, in a case where they fail, they are trained and given opportunities to perform better. Do not let your fear of failure lead to disgruntled employees.
Listening vs Speaking
When was the last time you sat down with your employees and actually heard them out and tried to solve their problems? Most of the time, we managers prefer to speak, to give orders, to correct and to emphasize rather than to listen and to resolve. For example, have you ever asked for feedback from your employees regarding your relationship with them? Are you ready to listen to what they have to say? Listening is a critical part of being a leader and enables you to understand what your team members are going through so that you can provide them with the help they need. When you listen more, you can prevent costly mistakes and disruptive relationships. Lend a listening ear and see the difference it makes.
Learning vs Knowing
When we are in the managerial seat, we assume that we know more and that what we know is the absolute truth. The biggest mistake you can make in your career is stopping your learning curve. And, note that learning doesn’t necessarily mean learning a new skill - it’s learning to know your employees, to know what they do, to know your role and how you can make a better impact and eventually learning to implement practices that are beneficial for you, for your team and for your company. Great leaders know that with changing times, they need to update themselves with new information and new forms of knowledge. In the words of John F. Kennedy, ‘Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.’
Effective Communication vs Haphazard Communication
Effective leaders understand the importance of clearly communicating deadlines, job nature, responsibilities and other important areas of project management. In fact, effective leaders understand every aspect of project management and strive to ensure that their team follows through the process without going through a panic. They understand that communication in all forms on all mediums is an important aspect of getting the right work out of the right person. On the other hand, managers without a plan or without effective communication will always struggle with getting things done on time and, though they may get away with it, eventually it causes an unnecessary strain on the team itself.
Planning vs Executing
As a manager, your essential role is to plan and measure, to predict and prevent mistakes, and to evaluate and assess your team’s performance. This is what leaders do, because if you were to take all the tasks on yourself or if you were to delegate everything to your team members without getting involved, you would be practicing bad management and poor leadership. The more planned out and prepared you are with processes and structures, the easier it is to get projects through the pipeline without harming the harmony of your team members.
Being a manager is a responsibility, a tough job and one that calls for a number of qualities and attributes. You need to be honest, humble, effective and responsible all at the same time. Robin Sharma rightly says, ‘Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It's about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire team-mates and customers.’