I was a quite rebellious teenager. The kind that threatens her parents to leave as soon as she has a job and some money in her pocket. My father probably thought that it was a pretty good idea and decided to help me to set up my first business venture at the early age of fourteen.
He proposed me to form a partnership with a Chef he knew to run a restaurant and cafeteria in one of the service areas that our family owns. My role in the partnership was to be in charge of the administration and running the cafeteria.
I was the only woman in a team of six, the only one still at school (the youngest after me was 10 years older than me) and they all had much more experience than me.
So my father gave me some advice about how to go in there that it basically boiled down to “ Be a dictator! You have to be authoritarian, directive, strict, and controlling. You have to make it clear from the very beginning that you are in charge, that you are the one that gives the orders around here”. So, I barked orders around pretending to know it all, listening to no one, and micromanaging to the best of my abilities.
How do you think it went? I have to say, it when ok while I was present. They put their heads down and did as they were told. A pity that I did not profit from their experience and as a consequence I made many mistakes. Also, a pity that I did not gain their respect and as soon as I was not present, they would do as they pleased. Total disregard for my “strong” leadership. The truth is, I was not a leader. I was a manager with formal authority, but I was not a leader able to motivate and inspire them to do their best to achieve a common goal.
Looking back, I realized that there were two main contributors to my resounding leadership failure:
I was not an authentic leader. I was trying to imitate the leadership style of a man 30 years older than me. My father being authoritarian was ok; he was the founder of a successful business and had everybody’s respect. Me being authoritarian was a joke. I came across as an arrogant child that hides her insecurity behind a mask of superiority, they could not connect with me, so they could not trust me, they could not believe in me.
Even if “Arrogant-dictator” were my authentic leadership style, it was the wrong style to inspire, motivate and engage my team. During my professional experience first as manager and later on as a facilitator and executive coach, I’ve learnt that the most successful leaders are the ones that understand that what their employees want is to be seem, to be heard, to be recognized and to make a contribution that matters. Isn’t that what we all want after all?
Think about the best leader that you have experienced in your life. It can be a boss, a friend, a parent, or a teacher. Someone that inspired and motivated you. What did that person do? I often ask this question during my workshops and get answers like he/she:
- Was a good listener.
- Believed in my capacity to do my job to the best of my ability.
- Was curious.
- Asked open-ended questions.
- Gave me honest, non-judgmental feedbacks that help me to grow.
- Was demanding and challenged me in a respectful way.
- Care about me.
These are not only characteristic of a good leader, but also of a good coach. Research shows, and many of us have experienced, that leadership behaviors are at the base of high performance. Those leaders that believe in us, make us feel appreciated and give us the opportunity to make a contribution that makes a difference, motivate us to do our very best. Under their leadership we become high performers.
“Project Oxygen” a research initiative launched by Google in which they identified eight key behaviors demonstrated by the company’s most effective managers, unveil that the most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching.
In today’s environment, there is a constant need for organizations to quickly adapt and excel at business performance. This is only possible if you have the right people working for you and they are inspired and engaged to do their best. Tools like The Predictive Index are fundamental to find the gaps to align your people to the strategy of your company and to develop it.
As mentioned in the HBR article 4 reasons managers should spend more time on coaching, more and more companies invest in coaching program for their managers because “They see coaching as an essential tool for achieving business goals. They are not coaching their people because they are nice—they see personal involvement in the development of talent as an essential activity for business success.”
My first business failure was the result of me treating my employees as brainless followers that were there to do as they were told, completely wasting their capabilities and experience. That is a mistake that I won’t make again, it is also a luxury that family companies can’t no longer afford. Implementing a coaching culture in the company, aided by Talent Optimization tools such as The Predictive Index, could be the solution.
Written by Carmen Lence