Many people placed in management positions may have a very different understanding of leadership. They believe once achieved, it’s theirs to own and hold court over their subordinates. I would argue differently, that leadership and management are not owned. Like respect, they are earned, honed and fiercely guarded or protected.
In my more than a quarter century in global organisations, first as a vice president with one of the largest financial services firms in the world, and later as a manager there, my interpretation of what it meant to be a “leader” evolved. I learnt the basics in our family business, observing my father in his management role. I appreciated those managers who helped me grow in my role and enabled me to hone my skills. Later I put their teachings to use, becoming a mentor and coach to my own teams. Like many of my previous managers, I sought to expose those I managed to as much as I could, enabling them to learn and grow.
Along the way, I developed rules that defined my leadership style and helped nurture relationships with clients and my team. These are those rules…
Smile. When you arrive at and leave work, wear a smile. And make a point to say good morning and good evening to everyone. You arguably spend more time with your co-workers during the workweek than you family; they are your family.
Be respectful to everyone. Regardless of their station, show the same respect and politeness to those cleaning the office as you would to the CEO of the company. Hand them the dustbin with a smile and a thank you.
Titles are just words. On your card, nameplate and online CV, titles have no intrinsic value; they don’t define you. Words on a card don’t afford you respect; you earn it. Titles only kick in with matters of authority and whether an issue requires escalation.
Take criticism. Thicken your skin. Whether a leader or a subordinate, you must be able to take constructive criticism. This is how we grow. That went for me, too. I demanded my team members at any level provide the courtesy of honest, respectable feedback, of course with no fear of retribution or blowback. Being a leader doesn’t mean you are without fault.
Never berate anyone in public. If you have an issue with an individual or a situation, have a private conversation with that person or those in charge. Always, keep it civil. The minute you lose your cool, you lose the argument, regardless of whether you are right.
You, as me. And vice versa. In any interaction, whether with co-workers or leadership in our organisation, or with clients or customers, my team represented me and I expected them to be treated as if they were me. If they were treated differently because of their “title,” they were instructed to alert me so I could intervene and redress the situation.
You, as me, with a client. Under no circumstance introduce a team member as a subordinate. No client wants to deal with a junior person and will immediately discount them, regardless of their ability. Always introduce them as a valued member of the team.
Be a friendly voice. When answering a business call, either intended for you or on someone else’s line, be courteous. Don’t just seek to take a message. Ask “How can I help you?” People want to be listened to. Be that ear. Many a time I was mistaken for a personal assistant, and I welcomed that with pride.
Personal assistant as gatekeeper. Don’t underestimate the importance of the personal assistant. They are the most important person to your client and hold the keys to the castle. Be polite and make an effort to build rapport. Don’t be insincere or disingenuous, as many have an amazing radar and will read right through you.
The client isn’t always right. Contrary to popular wisdom, this is not true. Clients deserve your respect and attention. But they are only right when they are right. If they become belligerent in their argument, again, direct them to your manager.
Mistakes as learning opportunities. If my team ever made a mistake, they were expected to escalate it. With clients, I owned the mistakes. “The buck stops with me.” I would take responsibility in front of the client; we then would resolve the situation internally with any necessary remedial or corrective action. However, any attempt to conceal an error was cause for immediate dismissal.
Give – and expect to receive – no less than 100%. On my teams, no one worked in a silo and people were expected to give their 100%. If you had no work, I didn’t want you to pretend to be busy. With no job descriptions, our teams were ready to step up to pitch in for overwhelmed co-workers.
Don’t drown in your work. As an extension of the point above, those who freely offered to help their colleagues were also free to seek help from them. Being a team without silos or titles means all must be willing and skilled to step in – regardless of station.
You will get client-facing time. Younger team members only grow if exposed to client situations. This includes phone calls, conference calls and client meetings. At the end of such a meeting, I would seek and expect open feedback, including honest criticism of the entire team – and yes, including me. What did we do well, what could we have done better? What changes would they suggest? Every interaction was – and is – an opportunity to learn for the team and leader.
Friday was “Make fun of Samy Day.” Friday’s are the week’s pressure release valve for the team. With no fear of retribution, Friday was a day my teams could poke fun at my expense. This proved a point central to my management philosophy: Respect and fear are two different drivers. Knowing they could cut up with the boss built bridges across individuals and generations. It also left us ready to return to battle on Monday knowing we have each other’s backs.
I would argue that those managers with a dated understanding of leadership don’t lead teams; they have employees, minions in a form of mental servitude. Those who’ve earned and own their positions as servant leaders also command respect. As a team, they and their people fiercely and pridefully guard it – together.
My most valuable advice to future leaders of tomorrow – manage down, your results will speak for themselves. A robust team who enjoys what they do and who they work with, will be a successful team.
For Family offices, companies or managers that are looking for assistance in improving their management style, my door is open.