by Allen Powell President/CEO, S&N Communications
The employee who points out when safety protocols aren’t being followed; the administrative assistant whose new software implementation program saved his company thousands; the intern who eagerly presents their idea to management on how to do a sacred cow task – better.
What do all these people have in common? They’re leaders. More important, they’re leaders without the titles of “manager,” “director” or “vice-president” printed behind their names.
When you work in an industry such as ours, historically considered low-tech and low-education, you see a great deal of top-down management. While this may get the job done, “management from above” frequently leads to team members lower down the rungs feeling disconnected. This in turn leads to low morale, decreased loyalty and higher turnover.
At S&N Communications, we’re working to change existing perceptions about our industry. We’re proud not just of our employees, but industry workers across the board. These are high-tech, educated, experienced and competent professionals. Given the right encouragement and environment, they can also be leaders.
“Leadership at all levels” is about empowering your staff, from the executive level to the field, to make a difference and have their voice heard. What can you do to encourage individuals to emerge as leaders in your company? Below are three “how-to” tactics to get you started.
Leadership Tactic #1: Listen First, Act Later
You’ve heard the saying that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason? Most people think leaders talk. Not true. Leaders listen.
This past year, S&N Communications acquired three companies: Tower 16, SCE Inc. and Stake Center Locating. We could have gone in heavy-handed to each of these companies and started demanding they do things the S&N way, but to what effect? These companies were successful on their own for good reason. It’s our job as new management to make them feel they’re an integral part of a new, expanded team. We do that by listening to what they have to say.
It’s the same with employees. Managers who sit in their office have the authority to mandate what’s done in the field, but I guarantee doing so means those companies are missing out on growth opportunities. Your workers are your best source of knowledge. Include them in two-way communications. Solicit their input. Implement their suggestions and give them public credit for bringing ideas to your attention in the first place. Having a degree doesn’t always mean you have the best ideas. Inspiration can come from anyone, at any time. Your job is to make sure you create an environment where people feel comfortable coming forward. And, that you listen to them when they do.
Leadership Tactic #2: Be Honest In Your Dealings With Others
“Honesty is always the best policy.” Now, we’re not talking about what to answer when your wife or daughter asks you if a dress makes her look fat. (We all know the answer to that one.) Honesty in the workplace is connected to integrity. Employees know when management is being less than forthcoming on a topic or issue and, in these days of social media information sharing, it’s all too easy for disgruntled employees to start blaming and finger pointing on-line.
Without trust, there’s no way for a company to move forward. This is true both internally and externally. Mistakes happen. What’s important is to recognize the mistake and put processes in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again. We’re honest with our employees and our customers. It’s amazing how far being honest and not trying to cover things up can take you. When people know they can trust you, they’ll want to work for you and do business with you. Be as good as your word. Hold people in your company to theirs. By showing that you respect and value honesty, you’ll bring out those traits in your employees.
Leadership Tactic #3: Give Away Your Power
Wait a minute – isn’t leadership more about “the buck stops here?” Why would a leader ever want to give away power?
The answer is that when delegating and encouraging responsibility in others, you’re not giving anything away. Rather, you’re gaining much, much more. S&N gives our employees the skills and tools needed to succeed and then we step back and get out of their way. By showing confidence in someone’s ability, they will almost always step up and do their part to make a difference. This is true from the lowest to the highest-ranking position in a company.
My title may say CEO but I don’t hold myself in higher or lower esteem than I do anyone in my company. How do employees see upper management? One thing we hear that separates S&N management from others is that our top management is readily available to employees. This can occur in a formal manner, where a meeting is requested, but more often it’s us being down in the field, chatting with employees, or maybe holding one of our infamous cookouts for our workers during emergency responses. (The rumors you’ve heard that I grill a mean burger are 100 percent true.) Come out from behind the desk. Leaders engage on all levels, up and down the corporate ladder.
Leadership is much more than a boastful word to be tossed around by management. When used correctly, leadership inspires loyalty, the sharing of ideas and feelings of self-worth. S&N Communications is doing what we can to break stereotypes and show how leadership can come from all levels. We challenge you to do the same.
Five Fast Tips To Encourage Leadership At All Levels
• Publically reward employees who demonstrate leadership via newsletters, company-wide email, quarterly ceremonies, etc.;
• Make sure employees don’t fear retaliation for acts such as pointing out missteps or inefficiencies;
• Ask employees to set one goal each quarter that challenges them and give them the resources to meet it;
• Come out from behind the desk. Find ways to engage and bond with employees. Group activities such as bowling, going to baseball games or even in-house potluck lunches once a month are all options; and
• Tell the truth. Even when it’s hard. Do it anyway.