The other side of the desk


As per an ADP Re­search In­sti­tute® (ADP RI) re­port, poor re­la­tion­ship with the di­rect man­ager is one of the most com­mon rea­sons for an em­ployee to quit his job.* This sce­nario can change if the man­ager puts him­self in the em­ployee’s shoes and leads with em­pa­thy.

Take a mo­ment to re­visit your first day at your first job. As nos­tal­gia takes over, try to re­call your mem­o­ries of that day—the ex­cite­ment, fer­vor, and the sense of achieve­ment that you must have felt as the day con­cluded. There are many such mo­ments in our ca­reer, which stay with us for life— mo­ments that mo­ti­vate, of­fer new per­spec­tives while tak­ing tough de­ci­sions, and pro­vide hope dur­ing hard times.

beyond the walls of the meet­ing room

The mo­ment that changes one’s pro­fes­sional lives for­ever is when one ceases to be an em­ployee and be­comes a man­ager. This seem­ingly log­i­cal, nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion has many reper­cus­sions. As those in se­nior lead­er­ship roles will tell one—as­sum­ing that the man­age­rial role goes beyond al­lo­cat­ing work and man­ag­ing per­for­mance— many man­agers take on their new role with­out com­pletely com­pre­hend­ing what it en­tails. Any kind of lead­er­ship de­mands per­sonal growth, strong de­ci­sion­mak­ing skills, and con­tin­u­ous learn­ing.

The chal­lenges that a leader faces are dif­fer­ent from those faced by her team. The new roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­volve more people man­age­ment and in­ter­per­sonal skills. Lead­er­ship in­volves mak­ing dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions and de­liv­er­ing on them. The most sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween these re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and those in the ones in ear­lier roles, is that the job is no longer about de­liv­er­ing on one’s core com­pe­ten­cies. In­stead, now they are more about train­ing, teach­ing, and men­tor­ing oth­ers to reach col­lec­tive goals. From con­cen­trat­ing on ‘do­ing the work’ the fo­cal point now is to ‘get­ting it done’—un­less there is an aware­ness of this shift, it can throw one off bal­ance.

Such aware­ness can only be cul­ti­vated with periodic on-the-job train­ing for po­ten­tial lead­ers—not just one­day lead­er­ship work­shops, but more long-term, holis­tic pro­grams. Ad­di­tion­ally, seek­ing coun­sel­ing to more read­ily em­brace one’s new role is of great help. Last but not the least is in­tro­spec­tion—you are the best judge of whether you are ready for the job. Be­com­ing a man­ager does not only mean climb­ing the hi­er­ar­chi­cal lad­der, it is a role where one is ac­count­able to mul­ti­ple stake­hold­ers

—col­leagues, su­pe­ri­ors, mentees, ju­niors, and of course clients. Know­ing one’s in­di­vid­ual level of readi­ness and con­se­quently act­ing on the short­com­ings can take one far as a leader. After all, if one is to lead oth­ers, one must learn to lead one­self in the right di­rec­tion.

Know­ing one’s in­di­vid­ual level of readi­ness and con­se­quently act­ing on the short­com­ings can take one far as a leader.

one man, many masks

As a leader, one ends up play­ing dif­fer­ent roles in the lives of the em­ploy­ees. A leader is also a coach, men­tor, coun­selor, friend, and con­fi­dante. Deal­ing with these as­pects re­quires one to con­nect to her emo­tional self— in­voke em­pa­thy, be a good lis­tener, and pro­vide so­lu­tions with­out be­com­ing overtly in­volved. This is tough for both the leader and the led. For many lead­ers it is the fore­most chal­lenge as it re­quires strik­ing a del­i­cate bal­ance.

To tackle such sit­u­a­tions, re­call be­ing on the other side of the ta­ble. Un­der­stand and ac­cept the prob­lems and emo­tions be­ing pre­sented, speak with com­pas­sion and kind­ness, and re­as­sure the team that their side of the story is rel­e­vant. There was a time when one would have been on the other side, whether it was to ex­press a griev­ance or to ex­plain a mis­take. One ex­pected to be heard and un­der­stood and re­quired that some­one in an au­thor­i­ta­tive po­si­tion em­pathized and helped come to a con­clu­sion or cor­rect the course. When one re­lives the past, she will be bet­ter able to han­dle sit­u­a­tions fairly.

There will, how­ever, be tough in­stances where one will be un­able to help the team and will prob­a­bly need to take dif­fi­cult calls even after un­der­stand­ing their point of view. It could be pro­vid­ing feed­back, re­solv­ing con­flict, dis­cussing per­for­mance re­views, or even let­ting some­one go. Fo­cus on the con­struc­tive and log­i­cal part of the dis­cus­sion in these con­ver­sa­tions while main­tain­ing an un­der­stand­ing and calm de­meanor. Tak­ing tough calls does not nec­es­sar­ily mean be­ing tough on people.

paint­ing the big­ger pic­ture

In one’s role as a leader, the stakes are higher as the de­ci­sions have larger im­pact and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties too in­crease ex­po­nen­tially. The sponge that cush­ioned one from be­ing re­spon­si­ble and ac­count­able for the out­come of a par­tic­u­lar task is no longer there. How­ever, the au­thor­ity that one now wields, en­ables one to do things bet­ter be­fore. If one was treated un­fairly as an em­ployee, now there is an op­por­tu­nity to en­sure that the same treat­ment is not meted to her team. In­stead, she can en­sure suc­cess by fil­ter­ing in­for­ma­tion and mak­ing sure that only the pos­i­tive and pro­duc­tive ones reach the team. This does not mean keep­ing all in­for­ma­tion from them. Trans­parency is of ut­most im­por­tance, and in­vari­ably leads to in­creased own­er­ship among em­ploy­ees. Know what de­serves to be shared and what does not.

This change re­quires one to take care of things that em­power the teams to work to the best of their po­ten­tial. It could mean man­ag­ing ex­pec­ta­tions of stake­hold­ers or en­sur­ing ben­e­fi­cial of­fice poli­cies. The team’s suc­cess is di­rectly re­lated to one’s suc­cess now. It not only changes the way one works but also re­quires a shift in think­ing— from a task-ori­ented ap­proach to a goal-ori­ented one. As this change takes place, the big­ger pic­ture starts to mat­ter a lot more as one con­trib­utes to it more ac­tively and con­sciously.

To man­age this part of the job ef­fec­tively, it is im­por­tant to main­tain fore­sight while keep­ing an eye on the present. Man­age the team and their tasks in a way that they con­trib­ute to the goal ac­tively and sys­tem­at­i­cally through all ef­forts. Fil­ter in­for­ma­tion that can cause dis­rup­tion and un­nec­es­sary de­lays. Fo­cus on mo­ti­vat­ing the team and keep­ing them on track by pro­vid­ing feed­back at the right mo­ments, in an ap­pro­pri­ate set­ting. Whether it is oneon-one cof­fee ses­sions with a team mem­ber or feed­back let­ters, pro­vide in­puts in a healthy man­ner. In all this, do re­mem­ber that the team’s in­put mat­ters as well. Feed­back forms and sur­veys are a great way of let­ting the team know that their opin­ions are highly val­ued.

lead­er­ship is a soli­tary role

The des­ig­na­tion and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that come with be­ing a leader in­evitably sep­a­rate you from those who sur­round you. Mov­ing up the lad­der, how­ever, does not have to trans­late into leav­ing your col­leagues be­hind. The de­ci­sions that we take may not al­ways be in sync with the pop­u­lar opin­ion. There will be days when one has to change—from be­ing a leader to a taskmas­ter. Up­hold­ing com­mit­ments and ac­com­plish­ing goals will al­ways be a pri­or­ity over most things. In the soli­tude of lead­er­ship, do not for­get that em­pa­thy still mat­ters—not be­cause one needs to be a pop­u­lar people-pleaser, but be­cause while a leader is in a sense sep­a­rate from the team, she stills need to be ap­proach­able.

Of­ten the dif­fer­ence in des­ig­na­tions, acts as a hin­drance as one ap­proaches col­leagues for hon­est feed­back or in­puts. A di­rect re­sult of this is that the close cir­cle at work be­comes smaller. At the same time, the need for gen­uine feed­back and con­struc­tive de­bate is higher as the de­ci­sions one makes has a larger im­pact. It is im­por­tant to build a net­work of peers and men­tors as one en­ters the sphere of lead­er­ship. Make these in­puts more gen­uine by set­ting up a mech­a­nism to re­ceive anony­mous feed­back from those who re­port to you. This will break the bar­ri­ers cre­ated by des­ig­na­tion and for­mal­ity.

At this stage of ca­reer it is im­por­tant to build a net­work that will sup­port when the times are tough. No one can work in iso­la­tion. Peers and men­tors go beyond pro­vid­ing in­sight and help one to con­tinue to grow as a leader and as a per­son. They also pro­vide a strong sup­port sys­tem in people man­age­ment and, some­times, even in de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

in con­clu­sion

Be­ing a man­ager means height­ened re­spon­si­bil­ity to­wards the team, stake­hold­ers, and cus­tomers. Lead­er­ship is a jour­ney where un­due credit and crit­i­cism fol­low con­stantly. The need to do right for the team be­comes an un­ceas­ing goal. The pres­sures of this role can take a toll on the best of us. But, as in­di­vid­u­als, we do not change. As man­agers, there is an acute aware­ness of the weight of one’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and ac­tions. It is only hu­man to be over­whelmed by it.

These are the mo­ments when fo­cus­ing on strengths, reach­ing out to close as­so­ciates and men­tors, and main­tain­ing per­spec­tive be­comes im­por­tant. Fo­cus on per­sonal val­ues and the val­ues of the or­ga­ni­za­tion in dif­fi­cult times. These are the pil­lars that will help and guide in mo­ments of un­cer­tainty. It is cru­cial to be more aware of the fac­tors that can be in­flu­enced than those that can­not. With this as the fo­cus, one can af­fect tan­gi­ble change and work pro­duc­tively to­wards or­ga­ni­za­tional goals.

Be­com­ing a man­ager and tak­ing on the man­tle of lead­er­ship, is an op­por­tu­nity like none other. This is not just be­cause of the growth and progress that it spells for one’s ca­reers but be­cause of the rare chance that it of­fers to be an im­por­tant part of a suc­cess­ful jour­ney of not just the or­ga­ni­za­tion but also of the em­ploy­ees. Make this phase of the ca­reer more re­ward­ing pro­fes­sion­ally, as well as per­son­ally, by learn­ing to lead with com­pas­sion, fo­cus, and re­spon­si­bil­ity.

In the soli­tude of lead­er­ship, do not for­get that em­pa­thy still mat­ters—not be­cause one needs to be a pop­u­lar people-pleaser, but be­cause while a leader is in a sense sep­a­rate from the team, she stills need to be ap­proach­able.

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