Leadership in the Workplace

May 6, 2012 | Business News and Tips

Leadership in the workplace…


A few weeks back an old work colleague of mine called me up and asked if he could interview me for a management course he is enrolled in.  The topic – Leadership in the Workplace.  I was flattered to get the call but also felt a little weird about being asked to articulate my views on leadership in the workplace.  It’s not that I’m the most humble person on the planet and I have had the good fortune to have had a number of leadership positions in my career; but I felt weird about being asked about leadership in the workplace just because I’m a CEO.  At the end of the day you could probably ask 100 people who have worked with me through the years about my leadership style and some would say I was a good leader and others would say that I wasn’t.  When we are looking at leadership – whether our own leadership abilities or someone else’s – it is a very subjective thing.  In the end I agreed to meet with my old work colleague and I thought I would share some of my thoughts on leadership in the workplace with the South Eastman Health team.  Here goes…

I believe the most important thing about leadership in the workplace is that workplace leadership is not about which position you hold but rather about how you work within that position.  In other words – anyone can be a workplace leader.  Obviously there are greater leadership expectations placed on you the higher up the organizational food chain you sit (for example I am scrutinized every day regarding my leadership style and ability whereas someone working closer to the front lines may not face the same kind of leadership scrutiny) but being a leader isn’t about where your position sits in the organizational structure.  For any workplace to be healthy, productive and respectful I believe that individuals must ‘own’ their jobs and take pride in how they work as much as they might take pride in what they accomplish.

Here’s an example…

When I worked for Health Canada in Ottawa the area I was responsible for had two administrative support clerks.  Both of these individuals were very good at the technical aspects of their job – they were both excellent minute takers, they both knew how to prepare meeting briefing packages, they both knew how to manage complicated filing systems, etc. – but one person was a leader and the other was not.  The person who was the leader took charge of their job in an open and flexible way.  They knew they had deadlines and had tasks that needed to be completed but they also made an effort to put themselves in the shoes of the program analysts, field workers and managers that they provided support to.  In other words, they saw themselves as a problem solver and looked for solutions to challenges on their own – within the parameters of their authority – before going to an administrative superior for help or before becoming paralyzed and not completing a task.  This person ‘owned’ their job and saw it as their personal responsibility to make that job work not just for their benefit but for the benefit of those their job impacted.  Some management theory calls this approach ‘servitude leadership’ but I just call it leadership.

I learned a lot from this individual even though they reported to me and I hope I have taken these lessons forward in my work life.

I ask you to consider the LEADERSHIP acronym I developed below.  It’s not perfect but it has helped me face some tough decisions and do the heavy lifting that is part of all of our jobs no matter what level we work at.

L is for Lead, follow or get-out-of-the-way: Sometimes the best thing you can do as a leader is to shut up and let others do what they need to do.  Being a leader means putting your vision forward but it also means following the vision of others when that makes the most sense or getting out of the way of good ideas that aren’t yours rather than trying to shape them in your image.

E is for Empathy: Always try to understand the challenges that others may be facing whether those are work-related or not.  It’s important that we don’t become paralyzed by our fears and anxieties but it is also important that we try to ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ before we jump to conclusions about what a person is or isn’t accomplishing regarding the way we want them to do it.

A is for Action:  Like the NIKE ad used to say: Just Do It.

D is for Determination:   Things rarely happen on the timetable we have planned.  If you believe in your idea keep working at it.

E is for Evaluation – particularly self-evaluation: Think about what you are doing and how you are doing it – all the time.  Develop formal mechanisms for evaluating your work such as checking with co-workers whether what and how you’re working is working for them.  Also, make sure that the things you and your team are working on are evidenced-based and not just being done because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’.

R is for Reframing: This relates to determination mentioned above.  It is important to be determined but it is also important to be flexible.  If something really isn’t working and is stuck then ask yourself if you need to make an adjustment or bring in a new partner to help.  It’s never too late to reexamine a good idea.

S is for Silliness: I’m not suggesting that leaders need to be Jerry Seinfeld but it is important to not always take things too seriously – particularly yourself.  Have some fun at work every now and then.  We spend almost half our lives there.

H is for Helping: Remember, you’re never too important to take on what you might see as menial tasks.  If envelopes need to be stuffed then offer to help.

I is for Instigator:  Be an idea’s person.  Instigate discussion.  Instigate evaluation.  Instigate camaraderie.  Instigate respect.

P is for Planning: Make a plan.  Work your plan.  Ask yourself if your plan is working.

Someone once said you can tell the best leaders by the number of knives they have sticking in their back (tell that to Julius Caesar!).  I’m not sure that good leadership naturally equates with others harming you or disagreeing with you or undermining you but I do agree that leadership is not always pleasant and it is never about making everyone happy.  As Abraham Lincoln said – ‘You can please all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.’  If you intend to take on a leadership role this is a maxim to live by.

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