Successful leadership is a dynamic personal matter. It is “primal” because it involves your whole being and the impact you convey to others. It is rooted in what is most important to you: your purpose and values.
Successful leadership requires a conscious decision to commit to the purpose and business goals of the organization and to work with people to achieve them. It is a personal decision to find meaning, notwithstanding the potential for negativity. When you as a manager walk in the door of the building you make a conscious decision to find a way to make it positive for you and for others.
It begins with connecting your role as a manager with what the business is trying to achieve. As a public service manager you have a duty to respect and fulfill government direction, but is that the only motivation you need?
What staff are looking for is evidence of your personal investment in the work of the organization. Understanding your purpose and being able to explain it to others does not require perfection. But it does require authenticity. Corporate rhetoric may be central in the corporate communication strategy but it will not get you to first base in speaking with staff. For example, is it enough to simply allow staff to read an important corporate communication in a meeting? Or is your role to explain what this message means for your organization, how it will impact staff, and what you will do to work with staff to respond to it?
You are being observed in every action and reaction. Even the tone of one’s voice and body language gives everyone an indication of your level of commitment from the outset. Ask yourself: “What is the most important thing I attempt to do every day?” Recently a manager responded: “I build on the positive aspects of our relationships with our clients because I know that is key to our success. I am trying to coach my staff to do the same.” Those of us listening were touched because she expressed an authentic personal commitment. In her own words, and consistent with the corporate mandate, this manager made a statement about her values and her leadership. We could tell she meant it. Also impressive was that after over 30 years she was still committed. Guess what? Her team knew where she stood and was following. If you want others to follow, find your best personal way of communicating your purpose.
Frontline managers have a huge impact on the “climate” of an organization. The organization is counting on you to understand the core business of the organization and to see how this is achieved day-to-day by your employees. A true indication of your management ability is whether staff see you positively interested in knowing what is going on and seeking ways to support their efforts.
Are you having the difficult discussions about the business to bring positive ideas and solutions forward? Are you thinking and acting on how to create a better work environment? Are you seeking out operational issues and exploring how they can be handled collaboratively? Such activities demonstrate and ensure that you understand the work of your staff and the business of the organization. Your presence will be taken as a strong message that you and the organization care about them and their work. Unless your knowledge of the business is appreciated and respected and unless you consistently show you care about people, you are only working on the outside of your relationship with staff. You are not actively building meaning for them about the work and their relationship to it.
If you work visibly to support your organization, your values will be on full display and serve as a guide for all. Employees who perceive their leaders as ethical become more committed to their own moral values. Organizations which are perceived to be supportive are likely to see loyalty and integrity reflected in the behaviour of their members. Furthermore, their leaders will be seen to demonstrate values such as fairness, respect and integrity.
Another foundational element of your relationship with your staff is a thoughtful review of their roles, responsibilities and objectives. This is one of the most important procedurally fair and respectful gestures you can offer. It will assist you in clarifying expectations in a non-urgent manner. Beyond giving you the opportunity to identify issues for clarification and improvement, this approach will serve to prepare you to manage crises.
The only way you can be perceived as fair is if they can understand your expectations and decisions and be given the opportunity to discuss them. When big changes are underway the difference between one manager and the other is really how much effort was shown to explain the circumstances and keep staff informed, again in the authentic words of the manager.
Typically crises involve clarifying what went wrong, due respect for the facts, careful communication, and repeated emphasis on fairness in both word and action. In times of crisis, we often do what we have been consistently practising. Commit yourself rigorously to fairness at all times.
Nurturing loyalty, engagement and productivity
Promoting loyalty and productivity begins with conversation. A convincing speech may make a difference, however, a two-way exchange is a crucial part of your ability to demonstrate that you are listening, sharing your thoughts, seeking others’ thoughts, and working toward a common understanding. This is what successful management is about. An employee’s vision of their work, how they contribute to the organization, what they are learning during work, and how they apply that learning to their job and to their life beyond; these are processes that cultivate shared vision and workplace excellence.
That is why I encourage managers to talk about such things in ways that feel natural for them and to listen to staff. Staff will in turn listen and appreciate what is being said in the life of the team. In promoting such dialogues you offer support to your staff and increase their level of engagement in your organization. To the degree that you can build such engagement, you are investing in the performance of your team and the quality of your leadership experience.
Building on strengths
As a manager, you are truly on a journey of personal and professional learning and meaning. The above paragraphs are not a formula for success, however, they do illustrate the meaning of managing through values. Unlocking the secrets of your success as a leader involves the discovery of yourself and those around you and what matters most. Keep an open mind to unexpected opportunities, especially during challenging conversations. Look for opportunities to contribute the best of yourself while encouraging others to bring forward their best.
Our vision for the future is found as we support and encourage what is most honourable and in the interest of all. We discover the best of our leadership as we live our values to the benefit of the organizations and the larger purposes we serve.