We’ve been literally coast to coast, and from the far North to the deep South over the past few months working with credit union leaders. These leaders come from all levels from head tellers and shift managers to CEOs.
We’ve heard any number of concerns and interests ranging from how to deal with changing regulations to employee engagement to how to close the leadership gap by quickly training new managers.
Our sole focus in THE SENSEI LEADER MOVEMENT is on the human-centric side of things. Simply put, we’re dealing with leadership––not management. So I’ll leave dealing with regulation, compliance and technical HR issues to others and focus on the top 3 leadership concerns shared by CU leaders lately…
#1 Dealing with negative people in the workplace…
This issue has been coming up in workshops a lot! I mean––A LOT! And it’s not limited to rallying the troops––many managers, particularly in middle ranks, are very concerned about how to reduce negativity in their leaders!
This issue is bigger than what we can cover in a short article––that’s why we do workshops. Having said that, there are a few simple things you can do.
First of all, take a deep breath and seriously consider what you have control over and what you don’t. If you’re not in a position to address a negative superior––you may just have to do your best to mitigate the damage they’re doing.
The number one thing you can do––as stupid as it sounds––is be positive yourself. I’m not saying you have to be that annoying person who always goes around pointing out roses growing from piles of manure. What I am saying is that you have precious little control over anyone else’s attitude. You have complete control of your own.
This is not easy. It means taking serious and regular inventory of what is going right and making sure you and others appreciate it. It also means being realistic about what is going wrong and addressing problems on a manageable scale.
If you do have power or even some influence over hiring and firing, you should also consider how you might be able to address or in some cases, even confront a negative personality. Remember that a negative person in the workplace is also affecting the productivity and even health of everyone around them. It’s simply not responsible to look the other way.
Having said that, you should also practice our key characteristic of compassion. We are all susceptible to negativity based on any number of circumstances and conditions at work and off the job. It’s a worthwhile investment in time and effort to “seek first to understand” as Stephen Covey once put it. Sometimes a simple gesture of interest and concern can transform someone’s attitude.
#2 Leading up…
Again this starts with some self-reflection. As much as you want to influence the leaders you report to, it’s important to consider exactly how much control and power you have in any given situation.
The reason I emphasize this is because so many leaders who approach me with this issue, particularly young, ambitious leaders, want to make serious changes––and quickly. They often see a problem clearly––at least they think so––and they’re frustrated by the inertia of those in charge, which often doesn’t seem to make any sense at all.
You have to carefully consider the balance of yin and yang here. On one hand you want to make an impact and you know you can. On the other, you should show respect and sometimes even deference to those who have earned their position.
Now this doesn’t mean you just put up and shut up. It means finding respectful and meaningful ways to share your ideas while respecting that those in charge may have good reasons for their decisions and actions.
Now there is a very personal side to this. If you really think your contributions are being dismissed out of hand, or if you believe you’re being held back by jealousy and office politics, you might want to dust off your resume and start looking for new opportunities. I’ll just caution you not to act out of haste. Just because it seems that nobody is paying attention doesn’t mean they’re not!
Approach your supervisors and ask them if your ideas and input have any merit. Ask them for advice in reshaping your contributions to be more useful.
Again––think about what exactly you can and cannot control. You cannot control which of your ideas or contributions might be incorporated in the current decision making process, but you have absolute control over the diligence of your preparation and the quality of your work. Appreciate that no effort is without reward––it just might be that what you’re learning now will have more immediate application in the future.
#3 Low levels of engagement…
Ian Smith is a dear friend who is an expert in the area of scaling and acquisition. On a recent episode of Walking the Walk we got into the engagement problem. He shared that the average American workplace only enjoys a 29% rate of active engagement. Then he added,
“But the good news is that we’re the best in the world!”
There are any number of studies that provide reasons for these low levels of engagement––and conversely the high levels of active disengagement. Most of these reasons have nothing to do with management, which is why they’re very difficult to manage! It’s a leadership issue.
I say this 20 times a week…
The research is clear. People perform at their best when, and only when they know their leaders care. They need to know their work has meaning and that they have the opportunity to learn, grow and develop.
To accomplish this, leaders need emotional intelligence, strong interpersonal skills and a highly developed and accurate sense of self-awareness––we might even say humility.
We call this type of leader a “human-centric” leader. A leader who puts people first.
In the dojo, we call this person “SENSEI.”
If you want to engage people––be this type of leader, Be the Sensei.
Now I’m not saying this to be self-serving. Let me explain how being the Sensei will help you engage people and be a more effective leader.
A Sensei’s job is simple: Inspire, empower and guide. That’s it.
In the dojo, this means helping people get to black belt. What does it mean in your life? Your work? Your role as a leader?
How can you inspire, empower and guide others to their very best?
Well it starts by leading with courage, compassion and wisdom. This is how you earn the respect, trust and loyalty of the people you serve––and those are the essential ingredients in engagement.
Above all, you must “walk the walk.” You must lead by example and model the behavior you expect from others.
Again the research is clear. Bad leaders and managers cause disengaged employees. It is that simple. If you don’t care––don’t bother. You’d do less damage doing nothing!
People follow examples much more enthusiastically than they do orders. When you truly walk the walk you become an inspiration to others. When you care––they’re more likely to care. When you work with purpose––they will too.When they see you actively engaged in your own self-improvement, well…
What is interesting is that almost all other issues leaders face can be traced back to these three, and a couple of more––all human issues. All more leadership issues than management issues.
The plain fact is you lead people. And––leaders are people too.
If you want to be a better leader––be more human.
Every issue we talked about can be addressed with our 3 key purposes of the leader: Inspire, empower and guide. Commit yourself to the practice of these purposes and your positivity will be contagious, you will influence others both up and down the line and you will engage people on a deeper, more meaningful and much more productive level.
That’s what makes you the Sensei too!