Today, January 7th, I am quietly celebrating my six year work anniversary at my corporate job. Fresh off of turning 20 I started my corporate job as a naive know-it-all who never imagined herself sitting behind a desk talking insurance for the rest of her life. And yet here I am, still working at an insurance company behind a desk, and learning so much that, had I never taken the “just until I find something better” call center job all those years ago, I may have never learned.
Working at one company for six years has shown me so many different types of work environments and leadership styles- from toxic environments where employees can’t stand coming into their job five days a week, to teams that truly feel like family (big shout out to my work family, truly y’all make my days behind the desk so much more enjoyable!). I’ve seen, and reported to, managers that made employees leave meetings with tears in their eyes (mine included) and treated all employees the cookie cutter way, to managers that I’ve been able to talk to about personal issues and why I’m not performing well at work- and who truly understand and want to help.
Six years is nothing compared to 30, 40, or even 50 years working in the “adult world” but I’ve sure learned a hell of a lot receiving five promotions (and working on my sixth- wish me luck 😉 ) in my six years at this job.
Here are six of most important lessons I’ve learned about leadership to celebrate my sixth year growing up in corporate America:
- How you treat employees directly effects your customers. If you treat your employees with respect, appreciation, and dignity they will treat your customers the same. If you treat your employees with disrespect, lack of empathy, and as if they are just another body, they will treat your customers the same way. Employee appreciation and leading, not managing, employees directly correlates to customer experience. While working in a Contact Center, I recall the hardest times in that environment were not when we were slammed busy (although those were not peachy) but when we had unsupportive managers who micro managed our lives and every word that came out of our mouths. The best of times there were when I had a manager that was relatable, understood my concerns, and invested in my future growth at the company. When my managers treated me poorly, it reflected back on my customers, when they treated me better, that also reflected back to my customers.
- Trust makes or breaks a company. Having a culture and relationship of trust with your direct employees makes or breaks them staying or leaving the company when the going gets tough. Change is a very fragile process, and if your employees do not feel that they have a manager that believes in them and is willing to work so hard for them and be there with them through the change, then your employees will try to leave when the change gets tough.
- Adaptive leadership is key. If you treat all employees the same, then not all of your employees will flourish. Like teaching children complex subjects in a way that they understand, so that they can excel at the subject, managing and leading your employees in a way that creates understanding and respect. When it comes down to it, simply ask your employees what kind of management relationship and style works for them- and work as hard as you can to adapt to it. When I was a founding member of a new quality team at my company, our manager at the time gathered us all in a room and asked us point blank “what kind of management style and actions do you like, and which do you hate?” she took note of all of our preferences and concerns, and then acted on that (for the most part, she turned out to be a fairly mediocre manager) throughout my duration on the team.
- Respect doesn’t come with the title. Just because you have the higher title, doesn’t mean that folks don’t spit on your name when you’re not around. I’ve had several leaders who I’ve worked directly and indirectly with that, outside of decent human respect (and enough to get by in my job) I, and many others, had no respect for and did not want to work with. And as a leader, when multiple employees have no respect for you and do not want to work with you, then the feeling of animosity spreads and soon you will have a less efficient and effective team, and soon, maybe no team at all.
- Just listen. Sometimes your employees just need to vent and complain, and sometimes the best thing you can do to help them is to just let them speak. You don’t always need to speak and solve their problems, but they need to know that they have a confidant there for them that is willing to be a shoulder and an ear for them when needed. And remember, when working with someone through a difficult situation, remember that a response can rarely make a situation better, what makes it better is a connection. Connect with them first, then try to make it all better later (if they consent to the help). One of my best leaders at my company made a fairly big mistake with me one day, I was having a rough few weeks and needed to vent, I turned to him for some venting and assumed that once we left the room nothing would come of it, because I simply said I just needed to vent, it turned out that he had taken what I told him and was seeking action to resolve the issues and going to the folks I mentioned to work with them on these issues. Long story short, this turned south quickly when those people came to me to ask what was going on. While that leader and I worked things out and I told him to please only fix problems if I ask, and explained that I needed to just vent, it caused a decent sized hiccup for a while that I had to resolve.
- Leaders don’t always have a title. You can lead from the trenches or from behind the big desk- it truly doesn’t matter. Leadership is all about having others want to work with you, trust you, and be with you and look to you for answers. Employees don’t care who has the official title when choosing a leader, and some of the most important leaders you may have at your company and your team may be those with the smaller title. So use their knowledge, their abilities, and their strength to help your team rise and become who they are meant to be.
So many of these lessons align with what I’ve learned about how not to treat your employees and are key to making hardworking team members feel appreciated and respected, and to keep them from updating their resumes and sending them out to other companies.