After talking with a friend recently about developing leadership qualities in others, I decided it was time to recycle this post from a year ago
No doubt we’ve all read the same articles and books and heard the same motivational speakers on leadership, and they all talk about getting ahead and career success with such eloquence and verve. I’m not going to be as kind as Stephen Covey or Tony Robbins. Over the years I have accumulated my own criteria for what it means to be a true leader, and I have decided to tell it as I see it. You’ve been warned.
1. Stop sucking up. Anyone with any ability to read people at all will know you are doing it, and you will be labeled a phony. I hate it when people suck up. I hated it in high school, and I couldn’t stand it when I was teaching. If you have a boss or co-worker that needs to be sucked up to, then you have a lousy boss or co-worker. Look for another job ASAP.
2. Work hard. Instead of sucking up, just work hard. Do your job really well. Actively look for ways to do your job better and take on more work. Do not, I repeat, do not take on more work to show off or try to outdo your co-workers. Offer to help others but don’t take over. Just make the offer and then let your co-workers come to you if they want the help. Then actually be helpful.
3. Pay your dues. Everybody wants to be the chair of the committee, the head of a department, the guy with the corner office with all the windows and two administrative assistants. Get over it. Most of us have to spend quite a long time, like years, working our butts off to gain our colleagues’ respect and to be in a position to make more money and take on more responsibility. Your college degree isn’t all that impressive in the 21st century. It’s just a given. Be willing to do anything and everything asked of everyone on the staff you’re working with. Take out the trash; make the coffee; make your own copies; staple your own stuff; learn how to use the fax and copy machines; pick up the mail. Don’t expect to ever have a personal or administrative assistant to do all of that for you. If you do eventually have that kind of assistance, you will appreciate the help all the more because you’ve done some of the crap work yourself.
4. Be kind and supportive of others. It is not a coincidence that the great thinkers and philosophers in all of civilization–Aristotle, Confucius, Buddha, and Jesus–all taught the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Leadership is all about building up others, offering praise, and pointing out more strengths in someone else’s work than weaknesses. Here’s the catch: you actually have to mean it (see #1 about not sucking up). People know when you’re authentic and will be suspicious of you if you b.s. them.
5. Don’t complain about your job on Facebook or other social media or to people you don’t know or don’t trust to raise your children. Do I really have to say more about this? Whatever is said on Facebook will get back to everyone you work with and eventually to your boss. You sound like a baby and whiner when you do that. Also, whomever you complain to may be the one interviewing you someday for a job somewhere else. He or she will remember that you’re a complainer, not an energetic, proactive person who likes to get the job done. It’s a small, connected world and don’t ever forget it.
6. Assume there is a bigger picture that you know nothing about. We are all guilty of not doing this when we are not the one in charge. You might think that the old codger down the hall is out of touch with current best practices. Think again. He may have been with the company for thirty years and know more about the industry and its changes than you know about your big toe. Another example: your boss may in fact enjoy playing favorites and may have very screwed up priorities . . . or, the boss may know that when projects go to certain people they will get it done or that certain items do not need to be acted on as soon as others. Consider that you may not actually have any idea what someone else’s job description entails or know what it is others do when you are not seeing them in action.
7. Keep your personal crap at home. I’m very, very sorry about your sick babysitter, your dead cat, your surgery, etc. etc. Most supervisors are happy to be accommodating and supportive when life crap happens to us. However, when you spend all day talking about it to others, when you abuse someone’s kindness, or when you act rudely to others in the workplace because of what’s happening at home, you will lose support. You may also end up losing your job. Don’t take out on your co-workers what is happening in your personal life. They all have personal lives also and shouldn’t have to deal with your crap, too.
8. Say thank you. I learned this lesson from the office manager in the English Department when I was a work study there in college. She said “thank you” when someone handed her a job to do; she said “thank you” when someone else finished or did anything. Be sincere and say “thank you” to your supervisors, co-workers, customers, clients, and everyone else. It works and when you say it often enough, you start to actually mean it.
9. Take the blame and give the credit. This is an easy one to say but a hard one to live. You just have to be willing to praise others and take little credit even if you’ve done a lion’s share of the work. When things go wrong, a leader takes responsibility for it. If you are around long enough, the people who matter will see the work you are doing and will make sure you get the credit you deserve.
Leaders can be found in every socioeconomic strata (ever hear of prison hierarchies?) and many, many so-called leaders just have nice titles and lucrative jobs (ever hear of Enron?). Leadership has very little to do with financial or social success, but it has everything to do with having the respect of your colleagues and being trusted to get a job done well.