What should we expect from our leaders? I would say at a basic level, we shouldn’t necessarily expect consistently good performance reviews (we should earn those), but we should be able to expect transparency, trust and respect from our leaders.
Throughout my career, and in church and in professional organizations, I’ve been blessed to work with many good leaders. I’ve tried to learn something from each of them. My leadership style has been molded by learning from my leaders, what I’ve learned from reading leadership and personal development books, and my own experiences as a leader. I have found that what I’ve learned from my leaders can fall into two primary categories – what to do and what not to do. In this article I’ll look at what to do and next time we’ll look at what not to do. As I’ve worked with my leaders I try to incorporate the best things about them and make that part of my leadership style. It’s hard to pick out just a few over thirty-five plus years, but here are 11 things I’ve learned to do from them:
- Focus on what is most important. Early in my career I worked for a manager who stressed the importance of knowing the “Essential Policies” of the department I worked in. These were policies that were critical to effectively and safely operating our facilities. My manager gave me a clear line of sight to what was most important.
- Personnel Policies. Similar to the above item, early in my career I had a director who drilled into us the importance of knowing our organization’s personnel policies. We dreaded our sessions with him (some would even be scheduled appointments outside of the office), when he would ask us questions about the policies, but those sessions helped build a strong foundation that has served me well during my career.
- Caring for People. How to truly care for the people you work with. My career mentor showed me how to see employees as people, and not just figures on an organization chart. He demonstrated for me the importance of getting to know them, and finding out what was important to them (their family, interests, goals, favorite sports team, faith, etc.). He demonstrated that with me by taking a personal interest in me and stressed such things as getting a will and joining our organizations’ 401-K savings plan.
- Keeping things professional. That same manager also stressed the importance of a leader keeping relationships with their team members professional. I remember him telling me more than thirty years ago that you can’t go out bowling with the guys on one night and then impartially deal with a performance problem with them the next morning. I’ve tried to maintain this separation to this day. A small example of this being that I will not ask a current team member to be a friend on Facebook. However, I do have several former team members as “friends”.
- Completed staff work. One director really stressed the importance of delivering completed staff work. That is, work that will not require any further edits, or questions. That was ten-plus years ago, and I try to encourage the same today with my team.
- Being a person of character. This has been modeled to me by several leaders that I have worked with. One of the basic things I mentioned above that we can expect from our leaders is trust, and that is related to this. A definition of character that I like to use is “doing the right thing when nobody is watching”. It’s a concept that is important to me, not only as a leader but in all aspects of life.
- Reading. In a situation that is unusual these days, I’ve had the opportunity to serve on the leadership team with the lead senior pastor for more than nineteen years, and sit under his leadership for nearly twenty-one. He is a reader and has modeled that behavior for me. As Albert Mohler writes in The Conviction to Lead, leaders are readers. He writes “When you find a leader, you have found a reader. The reason for this is simple—there is no substitute for effective reading when it comes to developing and maintaining the intelligence necessary to lead.”
- Follow-up. One of my pet-peeves is a lack of follow-up. A few of the leaders I worked with early in my career modeled effective follow-up by checking on assignments in status meetings. One would extend trust, but verify that things were moving along. There can be a fine line between follow-up and micromanaging, and effective leaders know the difference.
- Preparation. Early in my career our staff was to host an orientation of our department for leaders from another department. We “winged it” and embarrassed our leader, who really let us have it afterwards. Preparation has been one of my core values since that time.
- Mentoring and developing people. So much of the positive things I’ve learned came early in my career from my mentor. This is another one. I have seen some leaders hold it against their team members when they are ready to seek out other opportunities and move away from their team. Not Mel. He took joy –yes, I’ll use that word – in developing his young leaders and then helping them move on to other opportunities of greater influence. I worked with Mel two different times in my career (separated by six years). I learned so much from him that it’s still a big part of who I am 21 years after we last worked together, and I know a lot of others feel the same way.
- Praying for your people. Again, my lead pastor has modeled this behavior for me. He is a man of prayer and he prays for his people.
The above are just a few things I’ve learned to do from my leaders. Fortunately, my “What to Do” list is much longer than my “What Not to Do” list, which we’ll look at next time.
How about you? What would you have to add to this list?