Just because you have the job title of a leadership role doesn't automatically mean you are a good leader. Often, when someone is promoted to a leadership role but lacks the leadership skills, it leaves their direct reports frustrated because they aren't being steered in the right direction by their leader.
A leader's role is to set the direction for their team and steer the team in a collectively agreed upon direction. They need to get their team to buy into their vision and direction, which is why charisma continually shows up as a leadership trait; great leaders are great salespeople AND implementors. The reason why they need both key skills groups is because they need it in order to earn the respect of their team. If a team does not respect their leaders they will override their decisions, skip their line of authority and reach for a higher up to approve decisions. The 'leader' in this scenario will feel undermined and threatened, but their team reached over them out of frustration. Both sides are left with a bad feelings.
Today, I reflect on two points I learned on what makes a great leader. We learn throughout our professional careers and every day live that we should give more weight to actions, not words, so a leader needs to take the appropriate actions when faced with a tough situation to earn the respect of their team. It's not a one-time action, it's a collection of actions over time that continues to build team's respect for their leader.
Here are the two scenarios I recently faced and how I handled them.
TAKE THE LEAD
In one of my project teams, the project coordinators were skipping their manager and coming directly to me, the director, for implementation approval. I thought this was odd, since the role of the manager is to review and approve such items. After a month of taking on the role of the manager, the coordinator finally told me that they felt their manager could do a better job of their role.
Instead of agreeing with them right away and saying that their manager was doing a poor job, I first let the coordinator know that I would bring this up with their manager and ask if they felt they are still capable of the role, and if so, what they would have to do to provide more guidance and leadership for their team to earn their respect.
I then set up a call with their manager and spent a few hours crafting a strategy document with key implementation points as guidance for their manager. I felt the lack of performance on the manager's part is a direct result of my leadership, because in this scenario, I gave them TOO MUCH autonomy and they weren't sure what they were supposed to do; here, I took the lead and realigned the team in a collective direction so they didn't wander off and leave key members behind.
TAKE A HIT
During our busy season in the office (which now seems like a continual busy season throughout the year), a client sent an email to my staff where she was upset with the quality of our work. We had created content in English, which was to be translated into Chinese, with some sentences that were lifted from Wikipedia. The point of the sentences were to relay some key statistics of the neighbourhood we were selling, and would not be adjusted for verbiage when translated to Chinese. The Client of course didn't know this so they were upset that we had essentially copied and pasted content from online.
My staff asked me how to respond, and at first I didn't think much of it, then I realized that this was a key leadership moment - if I failed to take responsibility of the fact that we didn't perform, it would show my staff that it's ok to deliver subpar work, and it's not OK. So I decided that yes, we should apologize and say we should have ensured the wording was original and admit it was our internal miscommunication that we missed some key edits.
The content of the article was supposed to be my responsibility and not that of my staff who was only coordinating; of course the client didn't know better and shot the messenger. I learn from this lesson that I need to learn how to take the hit for my team and that is an art that requires practice.
So being a better leader means you should set the direction for the team and progressively be their shining light to take them forward towards the collective goal. You are also the 'protector' of the group, much like a general, and the best armies are those where the troops see their generals in front of them, not hiding on the sidelines. Learn how to take a hit, and your staff will respect you more for it.