Those appointed boss usually feel empowered. I felt intimidated—and that ultimately made me a better leader. When I was asked to step into the branch manager role for a 35-person office, I was leaping over several people on the organization chart that I considered my senior. One was a principal in the firm (and the former branch manager).
envision myself telling these people what to do. Instead, I would need
to persuade and inspire them. In other words, I would need to be more
leader than boss. It worked. The office performed very well and was an
incubator for several operational innovations (thanks to my dual role as
leader of our corporate quality and service improvement initiative).
reinforced my convictions about leadership, that the real power is held
by those you lead. Sure, you can force them into compliance. You're the
boss! But you cannot make them give you their best efforts. That comes
only voluntarily. Your role as leader is to evoke their want-to rather
than enforce their have-to.
Much has been
written in recent years about employee engagement. Studies show that an
engaged workforce produces greater profit, growth, shareholder value,
quality, innovation, customer service, and loyalty to the company. These
results flow in large part from discretionary effort, employees
willingly going beyond what is required to deliver more of what is
discretionary effort; bosses extract compliant effort. Leaders motivate;
bosses mandate. All else being equal, employees who want to follow you
will always outperform those who have to. That's why converting bosses
into leaders is so important for any firm. Here are some steps you can
take to further make that transition:
Prefer asking over telling. We
teach our young children the value of asking nicely then sometimes
forget the lesson when stepping into a position of authority. The
principle still applies in the workplace. But there's another reason to
master asking good questions...
Seek advice as much as you give it.
The most successful leaders never stop learning, so they don't hesitate
to ask others for insight. That includes their employees. The strength
of working in an organization is the variety of perspectives,
experiences, and talents available. But these assets need to be
effectively tapped, which strong leaders do by empowering others and
seeking their input.
Exert your authority judiciously. Pulling
rank over employees is necessary sometimes, but doing so routinely
dilutes the contributions they could make if able to exercise some
discretion. This a step of faith that many bosses are hesitant to take.
They think they strengthen their impact by asserting their authority
more. But the opposite is actually true. Willing followers are far more
productive than those compelled to follow.
But set standards and firmly uphold them. This
is where many collaborative leaders get in trouble, by letting employee
discretion spiral into dysfunction. When values and standards are on
the line, it's time to assume your role as boss. You cannot tolerate
willful violation of these core principles or they will lose their power
to guide organizational behavior.
Teach others to follow your example. Bosses
exert tremendous influence on the workplace environment. Gallup
research found that the number one reason employees leave is
dissatisfaction with their boss. One of your foremost duties as a leader
is to help other bosses grow into effective leaders. And the best way
to do that is by your example.