Liz Ryan - Leadership Forbes.com
31 March 2018
I started my first full-time, non-temp job when I was 19. I was promoted to supervisor of my department when I was 20. The bar was not very high. One of the other supervisors told me, "Don't be too friendly with your employees." "Why not?" I asked. "We're friends already. They're still my coworkers. Plus – I depend on those folks. I'm not going to be a jerk to them." "You'll see!" said the other supervisor. "Watch what happens when you try to be decent to employees. They step on you!"
That never happened. Thirty-five years later, I've yet to get stepped on by anybody who reports to me.
I learned that the best way to manage people is to treat them the same way you treat your friends or anybody else you spend time with.
As a young supervisor I learned the first leadership lie – one that too many people still believe:
Leadership Lie #1: Leadership means telling other people what to do.
Leadership might involve coaching people, brainstorming with them or finding other ways to figure out what to do, but being a leader has very little to do with bossing people around.
We hire grown-ups who are already smart and capable when they walk in the door on their first day of work. They need to understand the role and learn whatever procedures they will need to know. They don't need to be bossed around. If you're bossing people around you are not a leader, but rather something else – a fearful boss!
Leadership Lie #2: Being the manager automatically makes you right.
Being the manager doesn't make you anything except the person who's responsible for getting the right answer to every problem you and your team run into. Where are you going to get the best ideas – from your own, limited experience, or by tapping into the vast stores of wisdom your teammates possess?
If a manager's answer to disagreements is "I'm the manager, so we'll do it my way" that manager is missing the point of leadership. They are doing something even worse, too: sending their teammates the message that the manager is too fearful to consider points of view apart from their own.
Shutting out ideas and influences from your team members is a great way to send them straight into the arms of your competitors. Who could blame them if they left because their manager couldn't bear to hear their opinions?
Leadership Lie #3: The people on your team should respect your title, even if they don't respect you personally. You were put into your management job for a reason.
No one really knows why you were put into your management job. Your task is to make it obvious why you got the leadership job. Employees won't question the decision to promote or hire you into a leadership role if you handle yourself professionally, respectfully and with compassion.
Sadly, many managers can't do that. They need to exert their little bit of manager-power at every turn. They need to approve some employees' vacation requests and turn down others. They need to see their teammates' memos before they go out. They need to put their stamp on everything. Micromanaging is the least efficient use of a manager's time but the best way for a fearful manager to send the message "Don't forget who's boss!"
No one will respect you or your title if you don't give them a reason to. Everybody knows that senior executives make mistakes as often as anybody else does. Maybe the senior executives made a big mistake putting you in your leadership role. Don't expect your employees to respect your title one iota more than they respect your words and actions.
Leadership Lie #4: If you can't measure something, you can't manage it.
The things that matter most at work aren't measurable. You can't measure the level of trust among team members but that trust level powers everything you do. You can't measure the degree to which your employees want to be doing what they're doing (Employment Engagement surveys notwithstanding – don't get me started) but that element is essential to your organization's success.
We only measure as many things as we do at work because we're desperate to prove that our employees are working as hard as human beings can possibly work. An addiction to yardsticks isn't a sign of leadership – but rather of fear-based, old-school, factory-style supervision ("factory" in this case meaning a factory circa 1820).
Leadership Lie #5: If you have to assert your authority to keep employees in line, do it.
If you have to assert your authority to keep employees in line, you've already lost the war between fear and trust. People don't come to work to argue or buck anybody's authority. They only speak up when your company's policies and procedures don't make sense or when they're mistreated at work.
Most people don't even speak up then. If you have strife on your team you must look in the mirror. The minute you pull out the hammer and start bringing it down, you're no longer a leader.
Leadership Lie #6: Faster is always better in the business world.
Leaders know that big decisions take time. They don't spring big changes on their subordinates and expect anybody to be excited about them. Faster is not always better. Real leader mull over concepts and revisit decisions many times before they say "Here's what we're going to do."
They take the time to consult the experts who work on their teams before making decisions that affect those experts. Weak managers are more concerned with preserving their bureaucratic power by announcing, "Here's the decision I've made" than in building trust on their teams.
Leadership Lie #7: Good leaders are "tough but fair."
A confident leader doesn't need to be "tough. They don't need to be strict. What is there to be strict about, after all? You employ adults, not children.
Real toughness has nothing to do with bossing people around or bringing the hammer down. Truly tough leaders are people who can tell the truth about sensitive topics like their own uncertainty or their hesitation to expend political capital. Truly tough leaders don't put themselves on a higher plane than the employees they supervise.
Leadership Lie #8: Good leaders "hire slowly and fire fast."
When you trust yourself enough to hire people you trust, you're well aware of the investment of time, energy and goodwill that everyone has put into the working relationship. Real leaders don't fire people fast. They figure out how to use the talents of the people they've hired.
They commit to themselves and the folks on their team to make relationships work and if that's completely impossible, they take their time working their way around to a human solution that treats everybody involved like a valued professional.
As for hiring slowly, if your company interviews tons of people for every job opening and then casts most of those people aside, watch your employer brand go to the dogs and the best candidates refuse to meet you. If you can't fill any job opening within 60 days you have no business recruiting people.
Don't blame your internal recruiters for a lack of qualified candidates, either. Most job specs are puffed up with at least 30% extraneous requirements you could easily live without. Recruiting is every department manager's highest priority and if it is not, their open job reqs should be closed as those new hires are clearly not needed.
Leadership Lie #9: Most leadership decisions aren't personal – they're just business.
The biggest lie you will hear in the working world is "It's not personal – it's just business." That's nonsense and the liar who repeats the lie knows it. All business decisions have a personal aspect – sometimes a highly personal one. Weak managers hide behind "It was a business decision" when they lack the guts to take responsibility for the decisions they make.
Leadership Lie #10: Sometimes a leader has to be tyrant at work, but they can still be a great person everywhere else.
If you treat people as less than equals at work you can't pat yourself on the back for being a great person because you also coach your k▯d's soccer. If you don't act with integrity at work your good deeds elsewhere don't neutralize the evil you are perpetrating in a world that already has too much evil in it.
Leadership is a personal journey. You can read about leadership forever but you can only learn to be a leader by stepping through your fear, over and over again. You can take a step right now.
Step one is to recognize and rise above the leadership lies you've learned. Your muscles are getting bigger already!