In the last few articles, I stressed developing your vision of the future, leadership skills, choosing the correct employees, and attracting and keeping customers. In this article, I will focus on being the type of person and leader others want to follow.
Some businesses I have visited have retained the same employees for twenty years or more, while others have trouble keeping employees for more than one year. Why is that? What are the actions, words, and demeanor of the twenty-year boss, as opposed to the six-month employer? And doesn’t everyone want to have long-term employees? It’s less expensive than hiring and training new employees regularly, and continuity allows your employees to build relationships with your customers.
It’s tricky business, this employer and leadership stuff. The boss has to walk fine lines playing multiple roles in relationships with everyone in the organization. They have to be someone who is respected but not feared, someone who is friendly and understanding but not too personal, someone who is straightforward but not crass, and someone who can correct and discipline without being too harsh.
An expert on management and leadership, Paige Merrifield, says,
“Leadership can be learned by anyone. Ultimately leadership comes from a person deciding to be a leader. After that, it’s a matter of learning the traits and skills on how a leader thinks, speaks, and behaves. Leadership is a process and continual journey, it is not a destination.”
The journey continues when the traits are learned and applied to everyday life.
Think back on your life and your first few jobs and the people who managed you. You can learn something from each of them, whether it’s because you thought they were great, or because you couldn’t stand working for them. What were the traits they showed that you liked? How did they encourage you to grow, and challenge you to be a better person and a better employee? Did they praise you in public and let you know you were valued? What else did they do?
On the other side, why was it so hard for you to work for the others? In your opinion, did they ignore your efforts? Did they put you down in front of others? Did they make you feel like nothing you did was good enough? Did you think they made unreasonable demands? Now for the really tough question…do you recognize any of these traits in yourself as a leader? Why do you do the things you didn’t like as an employee? Are you an employer who has high turnover? Which of these things (good and bad) can you work on so that you can be the kind of leader that you admired?
My son was not the tallest boy on the playground. I knew he wouldn’t be recruited by the NBA in high school. At an early age, he was picked on by bullies. Chase came home very sad most days and asked, “Why are they picking on me?” After hugging him and letting him know that things could and would get better; my response to his question was, “Do you know why they are picking on you?” He responded through tears of frustration, “No.” I looked into his eyes and said, “They do it because they can. They are picking on you because they get something out of it. Think about what you have to do so that you won’t be the type of person they want to bully.” I know…it probably wasn’t the warmest of approaches.
After a few weeks, I noticed Chase standing a little taller and more confidently. Slowly, the taunts and bullying diminished, and then stopped altogether. When I inquired as to the state of affairs in the bullying department, Chase replied, “I figured out how to get them to stop picking on me; I just ignore them, and now they don’t think it’s any fun.”
My son, Chase, had learned a valuable lesson. He made a choice to change himself so he could change his situation. He discovered that he could be the type of person he wanted to be in a short period of time. You can’t change others, but you can change yourself; and as you do that, you change the way others react to you. Not bad for a ten-year-old!
To become a leader employees want to follow, your first move is to make the choice, the rest will come to you with study and proactive. Susan M. Heathfield of About.com writes,
“You can’t become a leader just by saying you are. Leadership needs to be worked at. Transform yourself into a leader with these five keys of leadership:
- A leader plans.
- A leader has Vision.
- A leader shares her vision.
- A leader takes charge.
- A leader inspires by example.
Studying your goals, objectives, and reading leadership literature for fifteen minutes at the beginning of every work day can transform your world. These fifteen minutes will ground your thinking. You’ll see the vision of the future and hear the words of encouragement throughout your day.”
Remember, it’s just a matter of setting goals for yourself, deciding how to change to become that leader that you admire, and working to reach that goal. As with Chase’s situation, people will react to your changes, and eventually, you’ll find yourself as one of those employers whose employees choose to stay with you for years and years. That’s a change that your customers will also appreciate!
Steve Ryan and Jennifer Torgrimson