Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be? That is the question…” soliloquy is about an internal struggle of whether it is better to live or not. While considering a move into a supervisory or management position is not a life or death proposition, the decision you make will have significant implications and consequences for your personal and professional life and that of the people you manage.
I think we’ve all wanted to be the boss at some point in our work history. Typically, these thoughts and feelings surfaced when I was unhappy about my relationship with my boss. I can recall thinking many times what I would and wouldn’t do if I were in charge. It seems so clear until you find yourself in a leading role.
Many benefits come with a promotion: status, authority, and increased compensation, to name a few. I call these “tip of the iceberg” benefits. They are very alluring, but a decision based only on these visible and extrinsic perks may cause more regret than satisfaction. The ability to perform a task or service consistently well, and to create the conditions for others to perform at the same level or better, requires intrinsic skills and motivations. By reflecting on three questions that challenge both our heads and hearts, we can balance the extrinsic with the intrinsic benefits of becoming a leader.
Numerous studies indicate that extrinsic motivators (money, bonuses, awards) have a short timespan of satisfaction before they lose value and become ineffective. Only a small minority of people feel that they are being paid based on their true worth. However, if your motivation for leading is rooted solidly in intrinsic rewards, which are a sense of achievement, or satisfaction that you did a job well. For example, you helped someone learn a better way of doing a task and made their day better. Because intrinsic rewards are intangible, they usually arise from within the person. If you are motivated intrinsically, you’ll will experience a significant and lasting degrees of satisfaction and fulfillment.
The questions are: Why do I want to be a leader? What is it that I want for myself and my employees? How can I be consistent and authentic to my purpose and achieve my wants?
Although these three questions are important for individual leaders, it is equally important for organizations to clearly define what they want from leaders. I know from experience that for the relationship between a manager and an organization to be mutually beneficial there must be a strong agreement between the organization’s expectations and approaches to leadership and the people they chose to promote. I can also speak from experience about how unrewarding and costly it can be to not explore these questions.
Why do I want to be a leader? I was selected in 1995 to lead a small group of behavioral medicine hospitals that were experiencing difficulty in a number of operational areas. The job was appealing to me because it was located in an area where both of my daughters were attending college. The company was interested in me because of my demonstrated ability and success with turning troubled hospitals around. We each saw the tip-of-the-iceberg benefits of the relationship, but discovered later that my approach and philosophy did not match their culture. I left the position after six months.
To begin your reflection, write at the top of a sheet a paper “Why do I want to be a leader?” and divide it into two columns. Label one “What helps me be my best” and the other “What makes it difficult to be my best.” Consider all your work experiences and note what you liked and didn’t like about those positions. Focus primarily on human factors, e.g. relationships with co-workers, what motivated you, did you receive recognition, what conditions made it difficult for you to do your work, and what conditions made your work engaging. Notice themes and conditions that may be common to all your work experiences; both will help you develop your “why” or purpose for wanting to be a leader.
After many tries I developed the following purpose for my practice: Dedicated to awakening, inspiring, and empowering human potential. What I realized in my reflections was that I performed at my best when the conditions of the job and my leaders were empowering. Jobs where I was given autonomy, recognition, and appreciation were the ones at which I performed at my best and enjoyed the most.
The goal is to discover a sense of purpose and clarity for why you want to be a leader. A purpose is like a North Star that can give you a sense of direction and focus. Based on your themes and conditions, craft a purpose statement that encompasses and summarizes the reason(s) why you want to be a leader.
What do I want? Start with another sheet of paper and write, “What do I want?” at the top and then divide the sheet into two columns. Label the first column “For my employees” and the second column “Myself.” Then list all the things that you can think of, e.g., “I want my employees to feel respected.” “I want to be trusted.”
After you complete your list, go through all the items in each column and rank them in importance. This won’t be easy, but give it your best. To help you in prioritizing the perceptions of what employee want, reflect on your own work experiences and relationships—try to put yourself in their shoes. This list will help you in a number of ways. It will help you compare the benefits of the promotion with what is important to you, give you an idea of the role and functions you will need to fulfill to engage employees in a positive way, and help to clarify your work and personal values, which will be the criteria that you will use in deciding how you will lead.
How can I be consistent and authentic to my purpose and achieve my wants? The “how” is based on a person’s philosophy and beliefs about human motivation, authority, control, and trust. I’m going to assume that you want to lead in a way that will create the conditions for your employees to feel valued, highly motivated, and engaged to perform their responsibilities and to value their relationship and association with you and the company.
The answer to Hamlet’s question is to be. Employees will first make their assessment of you as a person and secondly as a leader. The message is to be yourself, which is easy to say but much harder to put into practice. Being oneself is a matter of aligning your values with your actions. Employees are constantly watching to see if you walk your talk—trust is built or broken based on this simple rule.
The Institute for Global Ethics, through extensive surveying, identified five basic values that most people agree are essential for positive relationships: honesty, responsibility, respect, fairness, and compassion. As a supervisor you can be sure that employees will be assessing you based on these or similar values.
The ability to be an effective supervisor or manager is learning how to stay true to a value in situations that may appear contradictory. These situations often arise and as a supervisor or manager you may feel stuck in the middle between your organization and your employees. One approach is to not see these situations as either/or, but AND.
From doing to being One of the first indications that the position I took wasn’t going to work out happened in the first week. I was informed that the organization had made a decision to close it’s older, smallest, and underperforming hospital, and that I would have to organize a plan to accomplish this in two weeks. It was feasible, but it wasn’t how I would do it. Patients would be relocated to another hospital and staff would be notified of layoffs immediately. The plan violated my values.
I knew that if I went along with it my ability to be an effective leader would be damaged, possibly beyond repair. After a fitful night of sleep, I asked for a meeting and presented a plan that would allow me to live my values AND accomplish the organization’s goal.
My request required two months to accomplish the closing. The additional time allowed me to hold meetings with staff and to inform them of the decision (respect and fairness) and to include them in the process of the closing. It gave me time to express my appreciation and compassion to the staff who had been working at the hospital for many years and would not be able to find comparable jobs elsewhere.
We met the plan; the hospital was closed in sixty days. We held a staff party two days before the closing, after the patients were successfully moved. We celebrated the many years of hard work and dedication the staff gave to the patients and the organization. Employees shared stories; they laughed and cried. No one was happy about the closing; many told me that they expected it to happen. They wished it didn’t have to come to end, but they understood and felt respected; they had time to say goodbye. We couldn’t change the final decision, but we could change how it was done. We did it with respect and compassion and that made all the difference for them and for me. Ultimately it benefited the organization.
Moving into a supervisor of manager’s position does have advantages. It may be the first step on a new career path—but making the decision for the right reasons is essential for success. Being a high performer doesn’t mean you will make a successful manager. The shift is from doing to being. It’s a shift that requires you to create the conditions that will influence, encourage, and inspire your employees.
Your success will be measured by how successful your employees are. The rewards may be visible in your paycheck, but the most satisfying and lasting reward is knowing that you played a role in helping someone else do what you did better.
Our Purpose To provide leaders and organizations with the skills and tools to sustain optimal engagement, performance and competitiveness and cultures that afford all stakeholders the highest levels of safety and well-being.
Time: April 26- 28, 2011 Location: Evonik Industries Greensboro, NC, U.S. Quality Boot Camp Creating a Department Mission and Vision Program