Terrie L. Glass, Leadership Consultant
Leaders learn many of their important lessons through trial and error. I was no exception. And while learning from mistakes gets a lot of good press in the training and development industry, the truth is that often it would be preferable to learn from the experience of someone else instead. So for what it might be worth to you, here’s one of the many lessons I learned the hard way: When you are in a leadership role, it is always “show time”.
Moving from individual contributor to manager/leader requires a new set of skills and major shifts in thinking. It also requires a great deal more self-awareness. Like it or not, people all over the organization are constantly looking at their leaders. We know they look to us for direction, feedback and encouragement; but also, they are literally looking at us. They notice our behaviors, our moods, our action and our lack of action in areas from the important to the mundane. And from these observations, our staff members draw conclusions about us, about themselves and about the work that we do together. I was newly promoted to a senior leadership role, and during the first few months of that job, the learning curve was incredibly steep. Although I was up for the challenge, the enormity of the challenge obviously weighed on me. So I did what most high-achieving people would do — I dug down deep and worked extraordinarily hard from the moment I arrived at the office each morning until the moment I fell into bed at night.
Rumors about Me?
One day, one of my senior managers came by my office to share a rumor about me that concerned her. The rumor apparently circulating around my entire division was that I was arrogant, disregarding of others and unapproachable. My senior manager did not perceive me that way, but she knew if others in our division did, it would present difficulties for all of us as we worked to achieve our goals. She was, of course, right.
I thanked her for sharing this information and promptly began to fret about it. “Arrogant”, “disregarding” and “unapproachable” were the opposite of how I wanted to be perceived by the people I worked with. Those descriptions were the opposite of who I actually am and, frankly, they directly contradicted my history of feedback from both direct reports and colleagues. “How could people think this about me?” I fumed. “What had changed?” It was truly not understandable; that is until I reflected in detail about how I was “showing up” in my new job.
In my urgency to get the work done, meet the challenges and learn all that was necessary in my new role, I had become overly focused and “heads down”. I parked somewhere different from most of the staff in order to reach my office without wasted steps.
Behaviors = Perceptions
When I arrived at work, I went immediately to my computer to get a jump on the day’s demands. And my interactions with others were largely confined to those colleagues in meetings or to those with whom I needed to exchange information. Although none of these behaviors was intended as a reflection of how I viewed my staff, my new job or my role as a leader, they were behaviors that set people’s perceptions. I was now being noticed in ways that I never knew mattered.
Fortunately, correcting this perception was not hard. But it took intentionality on my part about small things, such as how I entered the building and how I let my own sense of urgency about learning the job affect my hour-by-hour behavior. I suspect that most leaders would rather it not be this way. We would like the option to have bad moods, slips of the tongue or just the freedom to be unthinking on occasion. But the mantle of leadership does not allow for such things without a price.
As leaders we must act intentionally. We must accept the fact that it’s always “show time” and, therefore, even the smallest things we do, or don’t do, matter. Self-awareness can be tiring, but it is essential. So is the keen realization that when you hold a position of power, people watch you.
Terrie L. Glass is president of Leadership Solutions, www.leadershipsolutions.us, a leadership development firm.
Tell Us Your Leadership Lessons
Maybe it was your first management job … a really great boss … or a really terrible boss. Maybe it came from an exciting challenge, a changing industry or a big-time crisis. How did you learn a powerful leadership lesson?
Leading Effectively is looking for guest columns from leaders like you. We want to hear your story — what has experience taught you about leadership? What insights and ideas can you share with others? Do you have tips, guiding principles or specific tools that help you to be an effective leader? Does your industry or business offer lessons that leaders from other sectors could use? If so, consider writing your story as a one-time guest contributor to this newsletter.
If you are a coach, mentor or leadership consultant, we want your thoughts, too. What stands out for you? What lessons do we need to learn — and how can we learn them? Are there issues or challenges that you can explore, reframe or teach?
If you would like to be considered for publication, e-mail your column to email@example.com. Articles should be clear, concise and no more than 750 words.