Webinar presenter Dr. Ed Sherman answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Be the Leader You Wish You Had. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Why is it in many cases, when we are not in leadership positions, we tend to advocate for better working conditions, and are generally concerned about the well-being of our fellow colleagues? However, it seems like once we have attained leadership, people can become insensitive to the needs of our subordinates and treat them with utmost disrespect.
Ed Sherman: Wow, That’s an excellent and powerful question, and, and that goes right to the heart of the leaders’ dilemma. And that’s a question that is really valuable to ask, which is, why is this transformation from the old style to the new style so difficult? And I will say the word that comes to mind to me immediately is expectations. So, I will say, for example, in my first leadership, or I’ll say management position, my first management position, I did not manage the people who worked for me as fully and effectively. And that, in fact, that’s part of the reason why this is my core career path is wanting to learn and do this so well, because what I saw with my boss was, that’s not how people were treated. They weren’t helped. They weren’t supported. They weren’t treated with respect. They were simply, forgive the term, given orders, and told what to do. And so, what was I to follow, right? What was I to do? Here I am as a new supervisor. of course, I want to police my boss, I want to succeed, and so on and so forth. And so, this is where the problem happens, is that there are these organizational expectations, and nobody wants to rock the boat. Nobody wants to make waves. I know I didn’t, because it was very uncomfortable. It wasn’t until much later in my career that I felt that I could stand up and say what was right and what was necessary and what was important. So, what I believe the answer to that is that when any of us are given that opportunity to voice our opinion, it’s really important to do that respectfully, and appropriately. But it’s really important to do that because otherwise, all we do is just continue the same traditions. And history and tradition are powerful, and it’s important. But if we just keep recreating the same thing over and over again, nothing changes. So, I think the answer to your question is, it’s because it’s what’s expected. But each of us has the role, or at least, the opportunity, to do something about that, and make that different. We can model that different behavior for others.
Audience Question: How can inconsistency in leadership be addressed?
Ed Sherman: So, there are two parts to that. One is a difficult conversation, which is to truly sit down with people who were either pure leaders or superior leaders, that may be at a higher rank, and have an honest, frank, assertive, but not aggressive, respectful conversation with them. And make it about results and outcomes. As long as we are focused on good or bad, right or wrong, move off of the arm wrestle, because if we even suggest with the best of intentions to somebody, that they may not be doing things the best way, or we may have an idea that we think will make it better, sometimes people become defensive. It’s really hard. Engage with them, try to hopefully have a conversation with them, and try to have them open to these new ideas, to be able to address other possibilities. But the unfortunate news is some people are going to be willing to do that, and some people are not. So, some leaders are going to be open to innovations and ideas, and some aren’t going to say, why on earth do I need to change, what I’m doing is working very well. Now, it may not be our perspective as a recipient that they’re doing well, but that may be their perspective, and that is truly a difficult situation. So, I think, you can appropriately bring to bear every possible way of improving the situation, by suggesting it, by advocating it, by teaming with other people who are like-minded to want to do these things. But ultimately, whether it’s your direct boss, or several people above you, depending on what rank or level you’re in, it can be hard. It can be hard, but I think it’s a worthy undertaking to try to do that. But recognize that there will be some, for whom, I’m sorry, to say. It’s probably, it may not change.
Audience Question: With the change in the workforce being more mixed with different generations. What is the most important point you believe is important to follow?
Ed Sherman: Absolutely, unquestionably, from my perspective and the work that I do and the research that I have done is the most important thing is to treat people with respect. And so, I’ve never met anybody who didn’t want to be treated with respect. Even people who had some pretty significant issues and were struggling with things, and maybe their words and their behavior, were not very positive. But they still, or maybe perhaps especially wanted to be treated with respect. And with regard to age and generations, I think whether it’s an older person, a younger person, somewhere in between, we hear all the time that the golden handshake and all of those things that were around that people were, you know, career or lifers in terms of like you take a job and you stay there. That’s not the deal anymore, that’s not the situation. Recruitment and retention is difficult. And so, I hear all the time from people that, if they are not treated with respect in an organization, they’re not going to stay there. And so, it becomes harder and harder. So, again, there has to be balance because it can’t be all one side or all the other. There needs to be a blending of those two things. But I think what could be brought to bear immediately is connecting with people, supporting people, communicating with people, and understanding their needs. Never ever does that take away the authority of a leader to still make the decision by being respectful to their people.
Audience Question: How would you encourage those, not in leadership to model these lessons that you shared with us today, especially when managing up and over?
Ed Sherman: So, again, I’ll say it may not be an easy road, but I think it’s an important road You can literally as a brand new probationary employee all the way to the head of the organization and anywhere in between model these things. The tough part, so let’s talk about the important issue of control for a moment. What do we have control over, and what don’t we? We always have 100% control of what we do, our attitude, our actions, and our words, we have complete control over that. What we never have control over are other people, even though how much effort we exert to try to change other people. So, knowing that principle of human nature, what we can do is two things. Number one, we can model consistently those better behaviors, those things that will bring about better results. And we can try to influence other people, but it’s a really important thing about how we do that. If we engage with them, and we try to have a dialog with them, and we ask their opinion, and their input and suggestions. Because, say, we go to somebody, and we say, “We think it would be better to do thus and so.” The problem with that is at some level, that person may be thinking, “Oh, well, that obviously means what I’m doing is wrong because this person is telling me to do it another way.” Well, not necessarily, I mean, there are shades of gray in terms of. It’s not so black and white is to say right and wrong, it’s to say, “This way might produce better results than this way.” So again, I believe where ever you are, even from whatever level it is, you have the ability and the power to live those things, to demonstrate those principles and characteristics, to do those things. And wherever possible, try to engage in dialog. Because I mean I would have dearly loved to have had a different kind of a role model when I was new and young in a supervisory role because I really didn’t have that alternate portrayal, so to speak, of another way of treating people and interacting with it and I wish that I did, so you could be that person.
Audience Question: What is the best approach to obtaining respect as a leader when coming from an equal level of employment with other employees in the workplace?
Ed Sherman: So, that’s an age-old tough one, because if you go from being a peer to someone’s boss, the fact of the matter is, you are now the enforcer. You do have the responsibility, ethically and professionally, to make sure that both of those things are met, that not only are the people supported, but the other side of that leader’s dilemma equation is handled and addressed. Because if you didn’t, then you would not be doing your job. The most important or valuable thing is to try to initially learn the situation. Talk to the people. Understand their needs, and try to find out what’s going on. What happens in many instances is people come in. Just think of how troubling it is when any of us get a new boss.
The first thing we’re worried about is, “Oh, they’re going to come in and change everything.” The first thing a good boss should do when they’re new as a boss or have been transferred, or whatever the case may be, is to try to get a good read on the group and what’s going on. And then progressively make suggestions. Now, again, I always have to have the caveat of safety. You know, we’re not talking about officer safety, or we’re not talking about things that might put people in danger. But apart from that, you probably have the time to try to get a good grasp on the group, the people’s personalities, the dynamics, and how they’re working together. And I think if you start off on that foot, they will respect you if you come in and you simply say, “I’m the boss now, and I’m the one who’s giving the orders and, and you have to carry these out.” Yes, because they want a paycheck, they might have to do that, but I can tell you from personal experience on both sides of that situation, it usually doesn’t work well. If you try to engage positively with the people, they’re much more willing to be accepting of your authority and respect that, but they also might be surprised because they’re not accustomed to that and it really could turn into a very positive situation.
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