The workplace is a lot like a locker room or club house; it isn’t just about standing out for your personal achievements, it’s about helping and motivating the other members of your team so you all put the very best possible product out on the field. And if you want to be the team captain or just in the starting line up I strongly urge you to read on. In the work place, showing that you can be an effective team leader is one of the fastest tracks you can possibly put yourself on to a corner office.
It’s not easy being a leader. In fact, low level managerial positions are most frequently where the highest level of professional incompetence is. Why? Simply because it is a fairly easy position to get to in a company by just being there a while. As long as you don’t do anything to get yourself fired or seriously reprimanded in your first few years of your new job, you will most likely find yourself in one of these positions, whether or not you are qualified or have even demonstrated that you are best cut out for that type of work. To be fair, it isn’t entirely the manager’s fault. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the majority of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the people who put them there. If you hire a dog to make you a pastrami on rye and all you get in return is a turd sandwich whose fault is it?
But the point of this article is not to talk about the lack of competence in the work place it is to prepare you so you can turn that incompetence into success and avoid making or eating any turd sandwiches of your own.
When building the 1980 “miracle” USA Olympic hockey team, coach Herb Brooks told critics that he wasn’t looking for the best players, he was looking for the right players. Chemistry is essential to any team and it is up to a strong team leader to set a precedent and put the right group of people together. This doesn’t mean putting the same type of people together or treating everyone in your group the same way mind you. Mental diversity is another important piece of a strong group system, if you over look it you may also over look the most effective answer to some problems you encounter. Answers that may have been obvious to someone who doesn’t think quite the same way you do.
It’s also important, very important, to understand what motivates your coworkers and how they work under stress. Be aware that not everyone responds to criticism the same way as others. Motivation is a tricky thing. You need to be able to tell which people respond best to a kick in the pants and which might be better suited to receive positive reinforcement when they fall short.
Patton once said of his troops “I don’t want them to like me, I want them to fight for me.” This strategy might work in war but it is rather risky business in the office. People enjoy working for bosses they like, and they will work harder for you if they have the added personal goal of not wanting to let you down. Be supportive and demonstrate enthusiasm whether you are in charge or just a co-worker. You need to evoke confidence and authority as well for this to really work, but if can take that extra step and at least give off the appearance that you were born to lead, your coworkers will have no problem following you.
Obviously you should be open to ideas beyond your own and give due attention to all members of your team and coworkers but there is more to listening than just thinking about what comes out of a person’s mouth. Focus not just on what people are saying to you but what they are trying to tell you. Body language is one of the most important and ignored parts of human communication. Look at someone when they are speaking to you, they might have something important to say.
Photo by Jonny Goldstein
Integrity might not be the only thing you need to survive in the workplace but it sure as hell is the most important thing. Several things take shelter under the great umbrella that is integrity. Don’t cheat, steal, or lie. Be honest, loyal, and trustworthy. Be respectful of all your coworkers regardless of their standing in the office. All of these points are very important and could probably merit their own articles but in the interest of not writing a novel I’ll just focus on one very important principle: responsibility.
Remember that bit about the “turd sandwich” earlier? Well if someone in your team ends up handing you one to show to the big bosses on an important project’s due date don’t try and blame the whole failure on that team member. Take responsibility for your team’s short comings. You were the one who assembled the team, you should be the very last to ever lose faith in it. Your bosses are far more likely to be impressed with you owning up to mistakes your team made than they would be at your ability to pass off the blame onto one of your subordinates. Being in charge means that you are held to a higher standard than those below you. The best of the best always see to it that they hold no one to a higher standard than they hold for themselves.
Everywhere you turn these days there is always someone that claims they have the secret to getting you to the top of the corporate food chain before thirty. Well, unless their “secret” is a time machine or some sort of magical “genius pill” you will most likely be disappointed in the results of said “secret.” A lot has changed in the business world since your father first put on that suit and tie, but principles never change (just watch “Mad Men”) and you had better learn how to live by them if you want to even be a part of that corporate ladder!