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Practically Imperfect in Every Way

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by  Luis G Gonzalez-Castro


Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. 

The sugar, in my case, was the platitude: “You know I really care about you!”; the medicine: the not so sweet “We’re letting you go”.  I am not sure that’s exactly what Mary Poppins had in mind when she first sang those words to the Banks children.

The problem was not that I was being let go; it was the reality that even the under-qualified, unsuitable and incompetent have power. At a time when people are voting characters like Donald Trump into the most powerful jobs in the world, how did this surprise me?

Having always been told what a hardworking, appreciated employee I was, how my ideas are making a difference in the business and how our department was getting busier by the day, I had no clue as to why my contract came to an end, was I the victim of someone else’s incompetence and low self-esteem?

To find out, I started doing some research on leadership and realised it was much more intricate than that. Some people differentiate a manager from a leader and believe they have their own separate places in the workplace. I disagree with this and believe that a leader is whoever is in control of our future and ultimately whoever we choose to trust with our career aspirations. I spoke to people in a position of leadership from cafe owners through to top blue chip companies and the one thing that kept coming up was a word we’re not unfamiliar with these days, ‘passionate’. Those leaders that were passionate about their job, the business they were in, the skills they brought to their teams, and their investment in their people are the ones that came across the most confident. Surprisingly, they were in love with their work life as much as their family life and were able to fit them both in harmoniously. “Why not?” one leader said to me, “After all, we spend most of our life at work”.

It was this remark that made me understand that leadership was changing very rapidly and unless you’ve jumped on that modern leadership train, you would slowly disappear along with the fabric-clad cubicle. In my career I’ve worked under four great leaders who each gave me some of the best career advice I’ve ever had. These guys had what it took to go the distance and were the players I knew would be something big one day. They were confident without being arrogant; they were firm yet kind; they weren’t educated to degree level but were knowledgable and experts in their field; and, most importantly for me, they treated me with respect, they knew what made me tick and they understood how to guide me. Regardless of my faults they tapped into my skills to make the most of me in their investment. They didn’t just do this with me, they did it with everyone around me. Sure, they weren’t perfect. They had their moments where I doubted their leadership skills but because they had an abundance of greatness in other areas, these small doubts didn’t matter.

What about the other “leaders” I’ve known in my career? The ones who frustrated me, some beyond belief and others who shouldn’t be in a position of leadership because frankly they cause more destruction than development to the business and the morale of the team. Were these wasted years of my life? Not really; I believe the good leaders directed me in the right path and the bad ones, kept me away from taking my career into a life of disillusionment, arrogance, negativity and fear.

So, what is modern leadership? Business News Daily (http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/) defines it in ‘4 Smart Management Strategies for the Modern Leader’:

1.Be the coach, not the expert,;

2.Adapt to the needs and personalities of your team;

3.Humanise yourself; and

4.View your tenure as a temporary stewardship.

I have to be honest, I read these and laughed because even those simple, yet complex for some, strategies were not evident in any of those people who thought they were good leaders. The arrogance they showed to confirm that they were in a position of “power” was exactly what lost them credibility as a leader. Those four strategies are good to know but what about the everyday behaviours? Those 

little nuances that your leader has, the attention to detail or lack of. There are plenty of articles on how to be a great leader but what about identifying if you have a great leader to aspire to? To understand the signs of a bad leader, I began to evaluate my managers on six signs that I believe indicate if someone has the ability to take me places, or if it was down to me to journey into the role all by myself.

1. The reaction of other people towards your leader: as soon as you mention their name in conversation, how do people react? Be it a slightly raised eyebrow, a “They’re all right” remark or a full blown rant about them. This is one of the best ways to identify if your new leader has what it takes to be your next master. Their reputation around the business, especially those whom they directly impact, is monumental to your success. I have to admit for a number of them, I never noticed the signs and suffered immensely because of it. I gave them the benefit of the doubt even after recommendations from reputable people not to trust these individuals.

2. Your leader’s reaction to other team members: how does your leader talk about other people including their own manager? Do they treat others in your team with preferential treatment and others like they are useless? Do they find the positives in everyone and talk about how they each make the team a good one or do they complain to you about them? Bitching at times or even poking fun at certain qualities? When they do this, do you feel like you are part of a private members’ club and that you are special to them? Sorry to say, but regardless of how good you are, most likely they are doing the same about you to others.

3. Responsibility Avoiders:  there were a number of occasions where our department made a variety of mistakes and my “leader” openly blamed another department with no hesitation at all: this is a major clue that they missed Leadership 101. What these false leaders fail to understand is that everyone can see what they are doing and unfortunately they just look worse than having taken the blame or simply said “Let me look into this and I’ll come back to you”. It’s also another sign that behind your back, they may make you the scapegoat to mask their own incompetence.

4. Unkept promises: this is standard for a pretend leader. They are ‘YES’ people. But not the good yes that comes after a few nos or proposals. They say yes automatically. After a few of these without any results, you start to realise that you could literally ask them if you could be the company’s CEO and they would say “Yes, of course”. This lost my respect for them immediately and revealed that none of their promises was even considered and just stood still in a black hole of ideas. Are they not aware of how damaging this is for the business in the long run?

5. How your leader reacts to your successes: so we’ve all been there. We personally got that client the company always wanted or you had this business changing idea that everyone is excited about. Then suddenly you hear that your leader spoke about it in a meeting using the term ‘I’ when proposing your idea or when someone from another department compliments them on your idea in front of the team they just smiled and said nothing. Yes, they are jealous and so insecure in themselves that they look for these opportunities to cover themselves in glory. Don’t they realise that giving their team credit openly or without anyone knowing makes them more powerful and well-respected!?

6. Your leader’s interest in your personal development: part of our dedication to any company is the hope that we will become more than we are in our current role. A Forbes article (www.forbes.com) states that 87% of millennials said that development is important in a job. It was a huge red alert when I was told that I do a great job but that I need to stop trying to come up with new ideas and that I should just “stick to what we know”. We are the leaders of the future which they can take credit for having moulded into greatness.

In conclusion, our leaders are not perfect in any way, far from it. They may wear the Mary Poppins smile and mimic her traits (strict but caring; knowledgable yet understanding) but it takes a lot more than that to earn the respect of a true master. Being a modern day leader is a tough job, there’s no doubt, but one that should come naturally. It really means adapting to new ways of working with teams, looking out there for what other leaders are doing and inspiring with every action they take.

Even Mary Poppins came across like a bitch but we all loved her and wanted to be led by someone just like her: someone with the right balance of order and pleasure. Ultimately, like a true leader, Mary left the Banks children when her job was well done in the hopes that she left them with the right tools to make life practically perfect in every way.

First published on CastroLife
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1 comments

Christian Scott

What a great article.

07.09.2017 | 13:23

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