December 27, 2018

Leading With Your Sleeves Rolled Up


Adam "A.J." Clinkenbeard
Owner & CEO/Brightside Advisers Ltd.

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve met some remarkable leaders. I’ve also met some leaders that were lost on their journey. One main thing separated the former from the latter: reality. Remarkable leaders are in tune with their businesses. They know what’s going on and where they need to make changes, living in the reality they created. Those lost leaders didn’t have a clue about their field operations, how they would react to market forces and what structure their businesses should take. All they could do was speculate and hope. It was as if their reality was on hold, suspended from progress until the next quick fix could be found. Hope is only a strategy when you haven’t accepted your reality.

There’s a lot of talk about corporate culture and change management. For some leaders, this is a terrifying thought. They don’t know where to start, they fear what truths may surface and they allow their egos and pride dissuade them from listening. Fear and uncertainty paralyze these leaders; incapacitating them, now unable to take the first step in evaluating the problem. For others, they believe a few superficial acts will make up for years of poor employee and client experiences. These two types of leaders lack the authenticity, humility and selflessness necessary to listen and collaborate. Rather, they strand themselves on islands of pretension and narcissism.

Remarkable leaders roll their sleeves up and get in the mix. I’m not talking about some surface phone answering or restocking. I mean pulling a full shift, right alongside the rest of the team. When a leader does this on the ground level, she gets a completely different perspective than the one shared by line and middle managers. The view at zero feet reveals every detail about working conditions, thoughts toward policies, alignment with organizational direction, an opportunity for learning and advancement, and the effectiveness of leadership.

I talked to a leader, a CEO, recently who does just that. He still works one shift a month in the field and he still goes on sales calls. He knows the best way to measure and influence his corporate culture is to participate in it at the same level as everyone else. This is a brilliant move. By rolling his sleeves up, he gains valuable insight into both the employee’s world and his customer’s world. Now he can address positive and negative aspects of his culture and influence change in real time.

I’ve known and worked with leaders that simply didn’t care how people felt. I’ve seen the façade of empathy and compassion. I’ve witnessed feeble and failed attempts at relating to employees. I’ve watched leaders marginalize the thoughts and emotions of the very people that give their all and get it done on the front lines. These leaders, a term I use loosely, treat people as a means to an end. Such behavior is the hallmark of poor leadership.

To all the leaders out there, look down at your sleeves. If your cuffs aren’t dirty, you haven’t been engaged with your workforce. Open your mind and your heart to the valuable feedback that awaits you. Your teams want to speak with you on their level and the only place for that to occur is right alongside them. Listen first and seek to understand where they’re coming from. Avoid judgment, rationalization and excuses. Just say “thanks” for the feedback. Spend meaningful time thinking about what you heard. Follow up with those brave souls who stepped out to share their inner thoughts. It took courage to address you and now you must have the courage to follow up and take those next crucial steps. Don’t wait another minute, go on and roll up your sleeves and get out there.

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

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