I once had a CEO who had a visionary idea of an open-plan, flexible office space where everyone, including him, would hot-desk and share resources. This was at the time that the Internet was still called the World Wide Web and we were worrying about ’the millennium bug’. We were designing the first shopping portal for one of the big supermarkets. When people were still saying, “Why would anyone want to do a food shop online? You have to pick the goods up and feel them to know you are getting what you want!” You know – the ‘good’ old days.
Anyway as a young Systems Manager it was my job to make sure that every system on all the hot desks could live up to the jobs they were given each day. From reception, to finance management, to graphic design to whatever task the CEO had to do, I had to make sure the IT equipment could cope. Some people got too comfy in their hot-desk and made a beeline for the same desk each day, but the CEO caught on to this trick quickly. If he spotted you at the same desk 2 days in a row he would get in super early the next day and would sit in the hot seat so you couldn’t get attached. No one had family photos or piles of unchecked papers on in-trays. There were no memories of home in the shape of dried out succulents or tea stained mugs. We were all equal – all the same – all able to work from any desk in the office. We each had a set of wheeled drawers, which we piled high with whatever symbol of ‘us’ we could find on them. Each morning when we got into the office we would spend the first 20 minutes or so finding an unoccupied desk and wheel our drawers next to them to set up for the day ahead. One client, who came in early and witnessed this dance, said we all looked a little lost, like the homeless wheeling their worldly goods in shopping carts, to the next place they could call theirs, until they got moved on by the local law-enforcer. Not the image our CEO had in mind I’m sure.
My point here is, whilst I can see the thinking behind the plan, its execution might not have had the desired effect. You will be glad to know that I have worked for some really great people. Here is my run down of the 10 qualities that I have observed the best of them do:
- They empower people. Giving people a clear direction, defined goals and letting them know where they fit into the picture is key. Then stepping back and giving them the power to carry out the tasks to help you achieve the goals is critical.
- By inspiring people. My Grandmother (Nana) used to say to me ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say.’ I always felt this was the wrong way round. Leading by example inspires others to stretch and to achieve more. And leaders need to keep being inspired by others in order to be able to pass this on. Someone who is no longer inspired by where they are or what they do can take the shine off the whole organisation.
- They give you the tools. Making sure that your team has the right tools to do the job so that they don’t get disillusioned and disconnected. The great thing about the hot-desking system was that everyone had the very best equipment to work with because it had to be good enough for the CEO to use.
- They give credit where credit is due. How many times have you sat in a meeting to hear the person who manages you repeat the last brilliant thing you told them as if it were their idea? Giving someone else credit for being brilliant doesn’t take the glory away from you, it only makes you look better – after all – you employ them right?
- They listen. Feeling as though you are really listened to is precious to anyone. We all want to feel that our opinion is important, that we have something to say, that we have a voice. Just taking the time to find out what your team thinks shows that you value their contribution.
- They do it for the greater good. If your team feels that your raison d’être is to make you look good, to advance your career, to give you the next step towards world domination, they may not back you up. If you are all working for the good of the organisation, together, you have a stronger team, a more resilient company. (Oh – and that will also make you look good!)
- They laugh. There is a reason GSOH (Good Sense of Humour) appears in singles ads. Laughing makes us feel connected; sharing a joke gives us a chance to bond, which makes us feel happy. I don’t mean start each day with “Have you heard the one about …” but freeing yourself to have a humorous side shows personality and your human side.
- They say ‘Thank you’. Genuinely. I know I’m stating the obvious but praise makes people feel really, really good.
- They get stuck in. Rather than walking past a busy team busting a gut to get the project in on time, or doing an extra long shift to keep the client happy and firing off a one liner of encouragement, a great Manager stops and asks ‘How can I help?’ Do you want to be remembered for being the first kind of person or the second?
- They know what they know … and they know what they don’t know. You have to believe they are in charge because they have the skills and the experience to get great results for everyone. But they are human too, they can admit to making mistakes, and learning from them. They don’t bluff or BS their way through life because they don’t have to prove they know everything. They know they are the best person for the job and they trust you to be the best person for yours.
I recently said good-bye to a great Executive Director who allowed me to experience all of these attributes with her leadership. I want to take time out to thank her for that and I want to share with you how to appreciate working with great people when you get the opportunity.