Difficult Professional Experiences Can Help You Become a Better Leader
Written by Elizabeth C. Castro
I think back on my incredibly fun 15-year communications career and there were several difficult job experiences that stand out to me. I recall certain positions where I was distracted, stressed and sometimes in tears at the hands of ineffective leaders who gave me some good reasons to seek better and more lucrative job opportunities. While some of these examples were difficult at the time, they ultimately allowed me to become a better overall professional and leader for my current staff.
I’m sure you have many lessons of your own, but here are some of mine that I think are valuable.
LESSON 1: Failure to address bad behavior will make you lose credibility in the eyes of your team:
The Situation – Imagine that a colleague of yours, who is technically a superior, comes to the office intoxicated and decides to sleep it off on the floor of his office, or attempts to bill a month’s worth of lunches to a client. Then imagine there are no repercussions. How you feel about the head of your department or company?
My Take Away – Take immediate steps to stop the behavior or terminate the employee. Failure to do so will make you lose credibility in the eyes of your staff. This one is so important because leadership’s inability to deal with unethical and unprofessional behavior destroys morale, distracts staff from their jobs and creates a culture of low performance and hostility.
LESSON 2: Mentoring and teaching junior staff to be great professionals is part of your job and builds a stronger organization:
The Situation – You’ve been given a task that you’ve never done before and the person who gave you the task claims to be too busy to give any direction, and complains when said deliverable is not correct. Talk about being set up for failure by someone who should know better.
My Take Away – Teaching and mentoring should be part of your job. If you want something done right the first time, and consistently right moving forward, spend the time on the front end to clearly explain the context of the assignment and expected results. It will be time well spent. This doesn’t just stop at specific projects, it also extends to professional conduct and career paths. Teach your junior staff how to act in a meeting, how to answer the phone, what to wear and how to interact – if they need it.
LESSON 3: Giving clarity about roles and expectations eliminates confusion and improves work quality:
The Situation – This one is slightly different from being a good mentor but just as important to young professionals who are not in a position of leadership. I’m sure that some of us have been in professional situations early in our careers where no one on your team had a clear role— and in the worst case scenario key pieces of a project didn’t get done correctly. I clearly recall getting sloppy directional emails from a supervisor to our team with no solid assignments and no project lead in place to delegate the tasks. The boss was unwilling to step up and be that critical mid-level manager, and the results showed.
My Take Away – Situational leadership is wildly important. Your team’s experience level will dictate how much you need to delegate and what expectations you have. Simply put: ensure that members of your team know what pieces of a project they own. And when they own it, it means they are moving it forward, know the status and can report on the progress at any given time.
LESSON 4: Getting out of the way and letting talented staff “show you their stuff” builds trust:
The Situation – Micromanagers. We’ve probably all worked for one at some point in our career. They not only want to give you the assignment, they want you to tell you how to complete the project—Every. Painful. Step. Of the way. To me as a mid-level staffer it made me think two things: this person has no trust, and likes to work 70 hours a week because they can’t effectively delegate. I almost felt sorry for this person.
My Take Away – Give clear direction and a deadline, then back off. (Or insert yourself when you need to). This is the number one positive feedback I’ve received from my team. I’ve been told by staff that they value how much I allow them to spread their wings and grow because I’ve challenged them to make decisions and find solutions. It’s what makes works fun.
Do you have other lessons to share? Post a comment.
Elizabeth Castro is a senior vice president at O’Malley Hansen Communications (OHC) in Chicago (www.omalleyhansen.com). OHC has developed social media strategies and manages Facebook communities for national brands. You can follower her on Twitter at @Eliz_Castro and @thecommsblog.