Are you a leader?

If somebody joins where you work, with less experience of that workplace, then you can be a leader. It doesn’t matter what post you hold, part-time, volunteer, manager or executive.

A new joiner will look to you to lead whenever your activity crosses over with their own. They will also look to you to lead when you are seen to be popular, respected by others, or simply welcoming. When this happens it is a great opportunity for you to grow within the organisation and as a person. Do not squander it. How you respond will be noticed by all your colleagues.

Even if you are new to an organisation, realise that how you behave will affect how others see you and whether they regard you as a potential leader.

If you are in a position which you regard as a leadership position then you must step up and begin by looking at your own behaviour. Leadership is essentially about trust. If you dominate by authority, tell people to just get on with it or find the door, you are not a leader. Of course there are times when you need to be tough, yet you need to understand how that impacts on people and what the outcome will be for the organisation as a whole. If you are being tough on someone who has consistently been a drag on morale through poor performance you will probably improve overall performance, yet if you are tough to impose a rule out of context you may seriously damage morale and your own standing. Simply enforcing rules by authority is not leadership.

So how to lead?

Firstly change your own behaviour. Become more aware of your shortcomings, choose positive strategies for overcoming them. Be warm.

Secondly be disciplined and consistent in your behaviour. Be reliable.

Third, be motivated by achievement for its own sake. Not salary or bonuses but simply doing a good job. Be the best you can be.

Fourth, understand the impact of what you do and say on the people around you and consequently their behaviour. Be empathetic.

Fifth and finally, build understanding with your colleagues, at all levels, so that you can persuade them to make the changes necessary to improve the organisation. Be open.

The toughest part is looking in the mirror and deciding how you have to change, then acting on that change. It is particularly hard for someone who has been in a tough management role enforcing a rigid process to then relax and trust colleagues to perform without tight supervision. However the rewards can be enormous.

The culture and performance of any organisation is a direct result of the worst behaviour you allow to occur on your watch. Make sure that worst behaviour is not yours!

That inappropriate outburst is important.

When it happens everyone present is taken aback. Someone you don’t expect makes an emotionally charged, quite loud and direct, criticism of their workplace or of a colleague. It usually happens in the wrong setting or just when you believe everyone is getting along fine. The natural reaction is to gloss over the outburst or brush it aside. Perhaps even consider that person to be having difficulties away from work that are crossing over.

That is a mistake. Good leaders sit up and take notice of these events.

Why? Surely this person has acted badly, chosen the wrong time and place to set out their grievance? Well good leaders are able to empathise, they stand back from their own perspective and consider how other people are behaving.

An outburst such as this is like a pressure valve blowing. For some time that individual has felt something is wrong, it has troubled them greatly, and they need to do something about it. From their perspective a great injustice is taking place. Consider the amount of effort it takes to overcome their normal feeling of place and speak out – in front of their peers and speak against their leaders.

From their perspective the leaders are not seeing the problem, not taking it seriously enough, or are simply not understanding the implications for others of a process or instruction. It is easy to think this way. From the leader’s seat it the way forward is clear and everyone just needs to get on with their job.

So consider this. Do you understand their job as well as they do? Do you really know what it takes to do it effectively, what is making it difficult to do the job?

Place a beachball between you and a colleague. Ask them what they see. They see what you see – a beachball. Now ask them to describe what they see. The stripes on your side and the stripes on their side are different. Now alter the distance between you and the ball. Move much further back and leave your colleague close by. You now see much less detail but have a fair idea of the ball. The perspective each of you has alters the information you have about the same topic.

As for the outburst. Never judge a book by its cover is the old adage. The reason for the outburst may be moral indignation, or simply a passion for doing the job well, for themselves or for their peers.

So ignore or rebuff the outburst at your peril – you are missing great feedback.

Is a contract worth the paper its written on?

There are lots of things said about lawyers. Some say only half of them are right – because when you get to court one side must lose. That set me thinking about a situation I shall shortly be facing and the implications of pursuing a breach of contract.

I recently joined the board of a small company that spent a relatively large amount of its’ start up money on several legal documents including a contract for software services. The contract, signed by the software developer, is probably one of the best I’ve seen for protecting a company. It contains provisions I am sure the developer did not see or understand the consequences of, and it appears he did not take legal advice when he signed. Without going to law it has proved a useful tool to keep the developer up to standard, and the company has acted fairly and generously on occasion.

However what use is a contract if the developer won’t press the button? In other words does the contract help you if the guy simply is difficult? He has done things slowly, he has pretended things are much more complicated than they are, he has been evasive and hidden behind technical jargon, he has said in writing he’ll do one thing then flatly refused to do it without extra pay. He has charged extra for additional work that turns out to be part of his original contract obligations. He has denied any fault and doesn’t admit mistakes. He has even disappeared for days then pushed for acceptance of work that has not been tested. He has been unprofessional and without integrity.

Yet he hasn’t done enough on any one occasion to warrant legal action. Why? – because instructing lawyers is costly and in a small company that is a big consideration. Is the prize worth the pain and uncertainty? Can we be diverted from the need to concentrate on building the business? Okay the work could have been managed better on both sides but without doubt the developer has performed in bad faith often.

So what I’m wondering is this. The lawyers obviously believe they wrote a good contract. They were paid well for writing the contract. So if they stand by their work will they pursue the contract at no cost to us? Apparently not. I’m wondering why not? Should we as clients begin to demand this type of service, should we not expect the lawyers to back themselves and prove the service they provide at the outset is worth buying?

Any suggestions for a shake up of current practice?