Many years prior to Linkedin or the advent of online recruitment sites, I saw an ad in the job classifieds: State Sales Manager for Australia’s fastest growing Advertising Company. My fingers couldn’t get to the typewriter fast enough as positions like this were a rare find. Several weeks earlier, I had been laid off from a job that I loved, having worked in the media sector for more than ten years. The recession had taken a toll on the industry, and I was working at a part-time “in-between” job when the call came through. I could hardly contain my excitement as told my parents and friends the good news. I secured an interview for the following day. The idea of being a manager was so appealing to me!
As I walked down Pitt Street in Sydney for the interview, I already visualized my beautiful large office, brand-new company car, and high-paying salary. I arrived outside the building and checked the address. I looked back up at the building and back down at the address; I was hoping there was a mistake. The four-story building that stood before me was grey and drab; frosted, barred windows, some cracked, had thick, abandoned cobwebs draped around the edges. This building looked as though it was about to be condemned.
The paint was peeling off the walls in the lobby and several of the fluorescent lights flickered as I made my way to the elevator. When the doors opened to the second floor, the hallway was almost pitch-black. The light fixture was broken and a lonely bulb swayed from the hanging wires. To my left, I saw glass doors and headed in that direction, unsure of whether I was on the right floor. The sales department receptionist (aka “chatty Cathy”) greeted me with a half-hearted half smile. “Hi luvvy. You here for the manager job? Take a seat. You’re next.” Her words said one thing, but this was a less-than warm welcome.
A few minutes later she escorted me down the hall where the boss, Conrad, appeared in the doorway, smiling broadly. He extended his hand and enthusiastically shook mine. The dilapidated surroundings I had noticed earlier became invisible. The interview lasted over an hour and went brilliantly. I was captivated by the opportunity as Conrad explained the position, his vision and need for a manager who could take the reins, undaunted by the challenges of a recessionary climate and a struggling sales team.
My journey as a manager began from that day. Conrad’s leadership style was exemplary. He was fair, firm and always asked more questions than he gave answers. Despite the difficult times, less-than favourable physical surroundings and ongoing office politics shenanigans instigated by our receptionist, it was a highly positive experience. Although it’s been many years since I left Australia and the State Sales Manager position, I can vividly recall the details; the names, faces and my boss’s positive influence on my career.
Do you remember your first manager? Did he or she influence you to be your best, or were you left disillusioned or disheartened? Whenever I have asked these questions during my speeches and leadership workshops, participants respond quickly, visualizing their immediate or past experiences almost instantly. The exercise helps leaders and future leaders understand the impact of influence.
The degree to which a leader makes a powerful, personal, and lasting positive impression is in direct proportion to the quality of their employee relationships. Whether you are a seasoned leader or a new one, your influence is likely to be felt and remembered. And in times of flux, acute talent shortages and a work world that has forever changed due to recent events, the significance of your role as a role model, mentor and leader cannot be understated.
The decision to hire and grow leaders
For years, I have been a fan of Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup. His company has surveyed millions of employees and leaders across the globe for the past forty years. Time and again, Gallup’s research confirms that companies in an array of industries put the wrong leaders into the wrong job over 80 percent of the time! If this alarming statistic doesn’t get your attention, I am not sure what it will take to get you and your organization to act—and act fast.
With so much out of your control, the one area you can control is who you decide to place into this esteemed and influential position of leading others. You can take positive action to recalibrate when you know it’s the right thing to do.
Whether you are a CEO, entrepreneur, or executive team leader, your leadership responsibilities must evolve along with your workforce. Command and control leadership styles are being called into question, and employee values and expectations are not necessarily the same as yours. Real-time leaders will need to find ways to transform themselves, their own leaders, as well as their organizations against a backdrop of transformation. Many of you, as well as the leaders you choose to lead in your organizations, will need to lead differently. Some of you may even need to get back to the basics if you are going to effectively connect with your teams.
The long-term impact of your influence
An EY Global survey on employee trust notes that one of the top influencing factors across all age groups is the degree of open, transparent communication, frequency of two-way dialogue, feedback, and willingness to hear their point of view. Think about the implications of a manager’s inadequate communications with their employees about career development and performance. What message does that send to an employee about how their value is perceived both now and in the future? When it is clear that an individual has high potential and is an asset to your organization, there can be significant mutual benefit if they are given the right direction and support. Never underestimate your effect on an employee’s career path.
As leaders, you understand how you profoundly influence every aspect of your organization. Finding the secret sauce to successfully lead a mix of personalities need not be elusive. The possibilities turn into probabilities the more you can sharpen your self-awareness and remain a lifelong learner.
Ultimately, your teams, employees, and primary stakeholders see you as the key individual providing the overall direction and presiding over critical business decisions. Your imprint is felt throughout all levels of your enterprise, evidenced by your mission, values, culture, and talent pool. Some of you may wield your influence overtly, while others are quietly impacting strategy, hiring processes, and customer-centric initiatives. In the long run, no matter how high tech your organization may become, the culmination of all your efforts and decisions for which you are responsible will continue to touch the lives of many.
About the author:
Based in Vancouver, Michelle Ray is a leadership expert, author hall of fame speaker and respected thought leader. This month’s blog contains excerpts from both of her books: Lead Yourself First! Indispensable Lessons in Business and in Life, available here and Leading in Real Time: How to Drive Success in a Radically Changing World, which can be purchased at any of these outlets.