Sometimes when we move into leadership roles we experience a bit of selective amnesia. We forget that when others were leading us we wanted them to listen more, help us learn and grow and be more consistent about what is most important. Then when we get into roles of authority we talk more, have little tolerance for mistakes of others and change direction like a pinball. Everything is urgent and priorities are something other people have to figure out. We somehow think that authority is our new weapon and in reality, authority is often mythical and at best temporary. All we really have is influence.
Unless we are parenting an infant or a guard in a prison, other people have choices about whether or not they follow our orders. Sure, there are consequences if they disobey us long enough or often enough but consequences come with pretty much any set of actions. Ultimately, people follow us because they want to, not because we say so.
I see this a lot with new leaders. They still complain about the leaders above them in the hierarchy, but what they don’t realize is that the people on their teams are now saying the same kinds of things about them. Here are a few things that new managers and leaders should keep in mind in order to make a much smoother transition into their new roles:
You’re the subject at dinner now
You can’t control the fact that you are the new topic of discussion at your team member’s dinner table. They will tell anyone who will listen what kind of boss you are. What you can control, is what they say. Think a lot about whether you want them to say the same things you do about your boss. If you do, then use your boss as a role model for your own actions. If you don’t, then examine the way you lead them and make sure you don’t duplicate your boss’s behaviors.
Your only new power is that they have to pretend to listen
Your new job usually does mean that if you call a meeting or have a conference call others will at least pretend that they care about what you say. What they do after that is completely their choice. Sometimes this creates the illusion that communication, understanding or agreement actually happened. Often though, there was just some stuff that got said. And if people don’t care about or agree with what you said, you will probably be the last to know. Ask good questions, help people think through challenges, insist on collaboration, insight and input if you really want communication to happen, instead of people putting the phone on mute and playing angry birds or just nodding and smiling. The dinner conversation will be better too.
If you think you’re leading but no one is following, you are just taking a walk
Telling people to be honest, or that you are open minded, or that they can trust you or that mistakes help us learn only has value if your actions follow that same path. I asked a senior leader once, how do you know your people are honest with you. He said, “because I told them I wanted them to be honest”. I probably don’t have to point out the irony in that but after watching him shoot more than one messenger who brought him bad news, I was pretty sure honesty wasn’t exactly running rampant in conversations with him. As much as we would love for people to judge us by our intentions, they will decide whether or not to follow us based on our actions instead.
If you are transitioning into a leadership role, or even if you have been in one for some time, there is some wisdom in working to lead others the way we ourselves like to be led. That doesn’t mean that we always give people what they want but it does mean that we communicate, involve and coach others the way we would want our leaders to, even when conversations aren’t comfortable or hard news needs to be delivered. If you aspire to a management role and aren’t there yet, make sure that when you get there, you remember your own conversations about the boss at dinner.