It was a sunny summer day when the CEO called me into his office: “Melissa,” he said, “I’ve had a complaint from someone on your team.”
The world stopped at that moment. Wasn’t I the most fun boss ever? I organized BBQs at my house, cocktails after work, and crazy team building games. How could someone complain about me?
I didn’t realize that having good leadership skills is not just about fun team building activities, but a complex and often messy job that requires dedication to the growth and well-being of a diverse group of people — and adjusting your management style in the process.
I was good at leading the people who were like me: independent problem solvers who mostly managed themselves and came to me for approval or clarifications. But what about the people on the team who needed to be managed differently, with my attention on what they did well and where they needed guidance?
Diversity is important and requires effort from a leader. The people on my team who were just like me were happy with me as a manager. We had fun, we energized one another, and we enjoyed all the conversational shortcuts that let us make efficient decisions.
The employee who complained about me left the company. It’s pretty awkward after you go around your boss to the CEO. I blamed myself for a bad hire, not mismanagement.
She made the tough choice to move on to another job. It pains me to think that I caused that turmoil. She was the one sitting at the bar, drinking with her friends and complaining about her terrible boss. Me.
You can be a better leader by using a few negotiation, persuasion, and influence techniques in your everyday agreements. Here are the biggest mistakes I made that you can avoid:
- What you think: I thought that my job as a leader was to know everything. I needed to be like a benevolent ruler, doling out words of advice to a grateful tribe. I wasted a lot of time worrying that I was an imposter, thinking that everyone knew more than me and worrying that they’d soon find out just how clueless I was.
No one knows everything alone, but your team knows a lot together.
- What you say: I gave out advice like free candy in my early leadership days. I told people what to do and how to do it because it worked well for me. The beauty of a diverse team is that when you let people figure things out on their own, they often come up with better ways of doing things. Listen to you team, ask questions, get a feel for what’s happening before you say too much.
Great leaders know that what you don’t say is important.
- What you do: Leadership is not intuitive for most of us. I managed people the way my boss managed me, which was great for some people and horrible for others.
I recently watched a leader carefully place each of his team members into the Situational Leadership quadrants so that he can guide them to success.
Get some leadership training for yourself.
The bottom line
We know that 70% of people leave bad bosses, not bad jobs. The responsibility of people leadership is on your shoulders, to shape and guide the work you do every day for the next generation of leaders who look up to you.