By E. Brown
I remember when I was a new manager. I was on fire with excitement. I was going to set the organization “on its end”. I remember the feeling of becoming the boss — I had a huge sense of responsibility. I also remember the first time I reported to my Executive superior about the issues I had seen in our organization and the changes that, in my opinion, needed to be made.
I had been with the company for over six years and I had seen a lot of mismanagement and turn-over. Communication was poor, at best, and the gossip grapevine was running rampant with unchecked growth. “Why did it have to be this way?” I asked myself.
Having worked from the line-level up, I understood the plight of the average employee. The lack of training “because money was tight”, while seeing the parking lot re-striped so that there could be specially marked parking spaces closer to the building for senior leadership. The hypocrisy spoke louder than words. No one was being fooled and many were being seriously demoralized and ticked off.
I wanted to be a leader who made a difference.
My boss listened attentively to my ideas about change and even said they were good, but then proceeded to tell me why they would not work. Was I disillusioned? You bet I was. I almost wanted to give up.
The thoughts that sailed through my mind were ones of futility. If I was in a position of leadership how could I make a difference? Nobody upstream seemed to care — either that or they were unwilling to rock-the-boat. Everyone in management seemed to be covering their own bases and giving little heed to others in the organization with whom they interacted on a daily basis. How could this be good for any company when all the managers were out for themselves and making sure they looked good compared to peers?
In-fighting, back-biting, and silos were the sure signs of a sick and/or dying business. In spite of all this, it hit me — I might not have influence upstream, but I had a sphere of influence around me and downstream. Wow! The revelation hit me like a ton of bricks. I still believed in the original mission and vision of the organization and truly wanted to see it fulfilled. I could make a difference.
Yet, could I become a catalyst for positive change?
How would I use — and not abuse — my influence was the key question? There is a certain temptation that goes like this, “I deserve it. I have worked hard for many years. I have worked from the bottom up and I deserve it!”
“I deserve the corner office.”
“I deserve first class seating.”
“I deserve a reserved parking place.”
“I deserve new office furniture.”
“I deserve upgrades.”
“I deserve a bigger house, longer lunch hours, leaving early, and more!”
My best advice is to run from that thinking. Why? Because your employees are watching you and taking cues from the way you lead. Because, whatever you feel you deserve can be gone the very next moment.
I did not want to set that kind of an example. Eventually, I was given a corner office to work in but I made sure my employees had top-notch equipment and furnishings before me. I made sure I worked with a folding table for almost a year before I got a new desk. I wanted the department to understand they came first. They were the reason we got the job done.
I decided to start and correct everything departmentally that I was experiencing organizationally. I made sure communication was open, honest, and frequent. I got my people training and when they could not go off-site, I provided it for them through one-on-one coaching and mentoring. I “chopped up” the gossip grapevine and treated people like adults — telling them the good news and bad — leaving nothing to guess work. I encouraged and equipped those around me.
And you know what? Things began to change.
People started to care about and trust each other. Employees pulled together and were enthusiastic and that enthusiasm spilled into their relationships with others employees from other departments. Next thing I knew, I had people calling and emailing me asking if they could be part of our department and team.
Take the Lead
What did all this teach me? I learned that no matter where you are in an organization, you have a sphere of influence. You do not have to be at the top or in a C-level position to lead. If you see a need for change start talking about it, take initiative, build up grass-roots support, and communicate it to as many people as you can. Encourage the people around you, build them up, and support them.
Don’t get sucked into the destructive self-talk, “I’ll never be a leader,” or “I’ll never be able to make a difference.” You can and you will. Stand out and take a lead from the middle — it’s not too late to start.