After many years of being an executive coach to top leaders and managers around the country, I always stress to people who are new to middle management two key concepts, namely role modeling and collaboration. Both of these elements will impact the future of their entire career. Done well and they will succeed beyond their dreams. Done poorly and they will feel trapped in a position headed to no where but a downward spiral.
When assisting an individual to become a great manager, I always start out with the following quote by Kevin Cashman: “Leaders get what they exhibit and tolerate.” Too many times, I witness leaders who are not aware of how they are role modeling before a group. The mixed signals they send, particularly in what they say and what they actually do, cause significant problems through out the entire organization.
Furthermore, too many poor managers also tolerate completely in appropriate behaviors and then wonder why their performance as an organization is not improving. As an employee in Missouri once shared with me, “fish stink from the head on down.” If we are clear at the head of an organization about role modeling, then many other problems go by the way side.
However, role modeling is not easy because we have to interact with others to get things done successfully. Here is where collaboration enters into the picture. If we as leaders and managers personally role model and collaborate well, we also have to make sure that others in our organization role model and collaborate well. The first step in this process is to make sure that everyone is clear about the strategic direction of the company and the operational expectations to make us all successful. This will involve helping people understand the priorities and goals of the company.
At the same time, we need to practice holding people accountable to these priorities and goals. The difficulty for many managers and leaders is that they would rather be popular as a leader than to hold people accountable. I like how Patrick Lencioni explained this in his delightful book called The Five Temptations of a CEO: A Leadership Fable, Jossey-Bass, 1998. As he writes, “work for the long term respect of your direct reports, not their affection. Don't view them as a support group, but as key employees who must deliver on their commitments if the company is to produce predictable results. And remember, your people aren't going to like you anyway if they ultimately fail.” While this may not be easy, it is clearly very important.
Finally, we must understand that in order to improve as a leader and as a manager, we need to create highly functional teams. The depth of collaboration that can take place within a highly functioning team is remarkable. Again, referencing the work of Patrick Lencioni in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Jossey-Bass, 2002, he writes: “If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.” The key is to build a foundation of trust amongst all members of the team in order that they are will to take the risks to improve performance.
Our challenge this winter is to personally role model strategic and operational clarity, to practice collaboration in all we do, and to continually seek to build highly successful teams. When we do this, we will not only dominate the industry but transform it too.