In my first years as a manager I was running a large outpatient clinic. I was young, learning on the job and made lots of mistakes. Thankfully I did a few things exceptionally well. Still, I look back on those days and wish I had had someone above me or beside me to help me get better faster. I didn’t leave any dead bodies but I left some hurt behind. As it turns out I received some of the most valuable coaching from a surprising source and I have never forgotten it. In fact this sage advice is proving to be more valuable now than ever.
My boss had a vibrant, intelligent assistant named Beverly, who always knew what was going on. She would often offer me important information and occasionally set me straight. I respected and liked her. One time I was dealing with a difficult situation at work. It actually started getting to me and I was not my normal upbeat self. As I was walking by my boss’s office one day, Beverly called after me. I stopped and walked into her office and she said, “What is going on Moira? You have looked so down lately.”
I will admit I was a little taken aback and I said, “What do you mean Beverly? I am fine (fine!)” She replied, “Well, you don’t look fine. You have been walking around the last week like your dog died. You look so unhappy and people are starting to notice.” I’ll admit this made me a little angry. I said, “I am dealing with a difficult situation with ______. Can’t I have a bad day once in a while?”
Beverly looked at me with her kind eyes and said, “Well sure, you can have a bad day. But people look to you to gauge how things are going and when you walk around for a week looking so unhappy that I hear about it from multiple people, that becomes a problem for the team. They need you to be positive. You are like the weatherperson – you signal which way the wind is blowing. You are normally such a happy, positive person and when you are not, it is noticed. It doesn’t send a good signal. It is your job as a leader to be positive, Moira.”
Leaders have a lot of responsibilities these days. It’s has gotten more demanding. It used to be okay to be a curmudgeon as long as you delivered. Brilliant jerks aren’t doing as well in most workplaces these days. Sadly they still exist, but they are an endangered species. Most high performing workplaces expect their leaders at all levels to have at least some minimal skills in managing the social and emotional aspects of work.. The research is clear, Visionary and Affiliative leadership styles are highly positive for performance and required to tap into discretionary effort. So all these years later, I find myself channeling Beverly often, with an even more compelling body of research to back me up. Yes, as a leader it is your job to be positive. This also holds true for team members. But as a leader you have to model the behavior or you can’t really expect it of others. You still have to challenge people and deal with difficult situations. And you have to find a way to foster a positive, happy, upbeat presence. Your team needs it and most likely you do too.
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.