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Posted by on Nov 10, 2010

Back to the Basics

My colleagues and I are sometimes excited by the latest, leading-edge research or new theories on leadership. Whether it’s the huge waves the burgeoning field of neuroscience is making, or the growing recognition that many of our work practices are not sustainable, there is something intriguing and engaging about the latest insights.

And then we are yanked back to “reality.”

This happens when we get our noses out of a fascinating white paper and just listen to what many employees say about their workplaces, and in particular, their bosses. It is almost always a sobering and sad reality check. We are reminded that for all the advances that have been made in creating productive, functional and high-performance workplaces, the reality is that far too many are still scraping by, fraught with dysfunction, toxic relationships, anger, frustration and even bitterness.

We hear things like the following:

“My boss throws me under the boss when he makes a mistake.”

“My manager refuses to tell us anything. We last had a meeting a year ago.”

“My supervisor only listens to people who agree with him.”

“My team lead said we all had to work late on a project, and then went home early.”

“My child was very sick and I needed to be with her, but my boss said he needed me at a meeting, which was a complete waste of time.”

“My manager only cares about one thing – her career.”

This list goes on and on and on, like the Energizer Bunny of dysfunction.

In sports, when an athlete’s performance goes wrong, the coach usually says it’s a matter of getting back to the basics. A fundamental error was made, and needs to be fixed.

This metaphorically applies to leadership, and to the broader place of what happens when work needs to be done and human beings show up to do it.

So what are the basics? In the spirit of a blog, rather than textbook, let me just list a few.

The basics include:

Realizing your job is to support the performance of others, not just make yourself look good.

Taking the time to listen to others. (Don’t say you don’t have it. How does it work for you if your boss says he or she doesn’t have time to listen to you?)

Being respectful. Do I need to say anything here?

Cultivating empathy – the ability to see different points of view without automatically judging them.

Sharing information – as much that is relevant you can.

Making the connection between the work and what you and others individually care about. If it’s just a paycheck for you, how do you expect others to be excited?

Showing up. Literally. Do you make face time? Do you ask people how they are doing?

Having enough self-management skills to avoid blowing up. When you feel the stress and pressure – which, by the way, we all do; it’s not just you – do you have the maturity, self-discipline and self-control to respond in a way that helps the other person to solve the problem?

There are many more, and this is just a quick list.

How are you doing?

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