Last week, I was at a community event and saw two teenagers with t-shirts that had a tongue-in-cheek message printed in huge letters: “Let me drop EVERYTHING and help you with YOUR PROBLEM!” And, judging by their enthusiasm, I think they meant it, too. I don’t want to be too hard on teenagers because we’ve all been through the teen years, which can be like the terrible twos on steroids.
It’s another story, however, when someone in a leadership position has that approach. You may not be wearing a t-shirt that says it, but it’s possible that you are sending the same message, and that it is coming through loud and clear. If so, it’s the wrong message, and here’s how to change it:
- Check your arrival time. Many times a rushed leader is a rude leader. If you are in a hurry, you don’t have time to worry about other people’s problems. And yet, an important part of your job is to be a troubleshooter. One way you can carve out space to make that happen is to get there early.
- Check your margins. You have to expect your schedule to be interrupted with problems and people and problem people. You can’t jam your day full of unreasonable deadlines and expect to have any margins left to deal with the unexpected, but completely predictable, problems that will arise. Since there is almost always more work to be done, this is really a matter of priorities. Good leaders make people their priorities.
- Check your mirror. I remember being in a meeting where a supervisor said that his employees were complaining, “Management wants us to treat customers ten times better than management wants to treat us.” One of the first practices of a great leader is to model the way—set the example. So, it’s pretty important to ask yourself, “Am I treating the people that I supervise the way I want them to treat customers?”
- Check your attitude. This may be self-evident, but I find that sometimes our self-awareness is so low that we miss the obvious. There are no tricks of the trade that can allow you to hide an attitude indefinitely. And when it comes to leading others, the saying is true, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” That’s why I believe in the principles of Servant Leadership. As Encouraging the Heart by Kouzes and Posner says, “Really believe in your heart of hearts that your purpose is to enlarge the lives of others, and you will find that your life is enlarged in the process.”