Monday, November 25, 2013

Guest Post: The Driven Leader

A Guest Post from my friend Rich Berdan

While first impressions of a new leader, whether a regional manager, or that of a VP or President beset on middle managers and employees in the nooks and crannies of the business is crucial to the beholder’s level of engagement; it is the meaningful relationships afterwards that will tell the story of the agenda driven leader (ADL) versus a principled driven leader (PDL). That first or even second meeting is less discernible with the hype and excitement of a new leader on stage waving flags and kissing babies; and it is only after the honeymoon that the real ‘you’ becomes evident.

It is now time for the new leader on the scene to earn his or her keep; and the rank and file are now witnessing the between the lines realities; and whether the leader is delivering on the initial propositions advocated to motivate the onlookers. 

One might surmise the credibility of one writing on this topic. Being around for half a century from humble beginnings with a mattress, 9 inch black and white TV, and a high school education to my name in a city and country with no family, and working as a teenager in a difficult factory alongside 5,000 hardened men for 8 years to every retail position from a cart collector to a regional manager representing 40 stores in five districts, it was the 24/7 blood and sweat in remaining honest to a modest principle –that is never having too much to forget and having enough to be thankful. While more could be said, the stripes earned through past experience should permit a fair analysis between the ADL and the PDL. 

In heeding the ADL, we observe them sharing their plans with great exuberance, and seeking approval and one’s participation in the near future only to never hear back on playing an integral part in the rollout of the program. On the other hand, the PDL seeks the contribution and proposals from the associates on-the-ground who best understand the roadblocks facing the business. The buy in has been bought through diverse inclusion. 

This ADL tends to send out numerous emails sharing relevant information in the business or related profession; however for some reason emails with subordinates tend to flow in only one direction on the one-way cyber street. Little thought of appreciation and recognition is given to the outranked messages and shared ideas; while the PDL responds in kindness and an honest evaluation whether the promptings are of little or no great value. 

While the above situations are mere examples of what an ADL may demonstrate, it is much more amplified in what they do not do relative to the PDL. This leader is genuine in reaching out to the employees who are the backbone in the business or facility. Not only does the leader take the time to seek out the foot soldiers of the business and thank them for doing what they do; but they also take a sincere interest in the challenges in completing their daily tasks, and witness the leader’s sense of urgency in resolving the issues by making a call on the spot. This type of action sends positive shock waves through the employee break room. 

The PDL takes it one step further when he or she discovers an employee who is of no pressing concern moments prior to the meeting, displays great empathy over a condition the employee is tackling; whether it is an ailing family member or a sudden illness facing them down. A follow up call to the employee by the PDL inquiring on how they are progressing drives very deep in making a personal deposit in the employee’s emotional bank account. 

One more example of the PDL is when an employee shares an idea or an activity that improves their personal development; and the leader takes notice by encouraging the associate to keep their foot to the aspirational pedal, and requests the employee to provide him or her with updates can go miles in driving one’s passion and dreams to success. A president I know recognized that everyone has a story, and he was not only interested in hearing the story but would often become part of the story by demonstrating his support whether tangible or through kind words. 

It is the ADL that employees fail to recognize or remember, and make comments that they never see him or her on the floor. They tend to miss the opportunities to address the employees in a large setting and employee rallies where they can express their heartfelt appreciation for the efforts and success they have achieved as a team; and somehow find their way to the front office with little to no interaction and positive employee engagement. 

There was one district manager in a big box retail company that I knew who would arrive for a store visit very early in the morning to thank the overnight stocking and freight flow team for preparing the store for the day’s business and welcome the arriving associates entering the store prior to store opening. This made him approachable and one of the team –a big hit across the company and promotions to follow. There was also a store manager that I knew that made a concerted effort to publicly sing happy birthday to associates in the watchful presence of customers. He had a terrible singing voice that made one wince, but that made it even more sincere and fun. He has also moved on quite well in his career. 

The PDL of very high regard will take it one step further by recognizing the ADL amongst the team and make a choice through their understanding not to judge them as a requirement of their position but rather to be blind to their personal verdict; and give way to the plea of generosity in supporting the ADL in their quest to be a valued member of the team. 

It’s the principled driven leader that has garnished additional favour through numerous deposits into the emotional bank accounts of the employees that will see his or her agenda quickly advanced through an army of loyal associates when they have instituted and followed the key principle –they never forget where they came from in a life time of learning, listening, and serving through the many promotions.

Rich Berdan
Human Resources Professional

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