What Are the True Responsibilities of a Leader?
If there is one thing that I’ve learned in life, it’s that no one else on the planet can make you happy. This applies to your parents, your friends, your coworkers, and your boss. Sure, people have the potential to bring you joy, and some are better at it than others, but when it comes to your satisfaction in this world, all responsibility falls solely on you.
This can be a difficult concept for some to grasp. I, myself, have struggled with this in the past. One of my roles for many years as a stay-at-home mother was to put dinner on the table for the family. I will admit, my competency in this task was quite low during the first few years of marriage, but, hey, shouldn’t effort count for something? It disappointed me that my husband didn’t consistently vocalize his appreciation for me completing this nightly obligation (as if he didn’t appreciate me). In reality, my husband’s appreciation for me did not change from the night I served burnt meatloaf and lumpy mashed potatoes to the night that I finally nailed that gluten-free pizza crust. I put certain pressures on myself to perform and judged myself through his reaction of satisfaction (or lack thereof). I was the one placing my value on the success of this specific task, not him. (Though my attitude would have greatly improved had he communicated that to me at the time!) In order for me to find satisfaction in that role, I needed to adjust my expectations; eventually, with enough experience in the kitchen, I became confident (if not more committed) in the role. It still isn’t my favorite task but at this point, I am generally satisfied with the end result, with or without my husband’s vocal “approval”.
This often happens in the workplace as well. An inexperienced employee may feel discouraged after the failure of a task and instinctively blames their manager without admitting any fault or recognizing how they could personally grow from the experience. At the same time, if an employee isn’t properly recognized for their contributions toward a successful project, they might experience discontentment.
This puts leadership in a precarious situation. Leaders do need to accept responsibility for their professional misgivings, and the failures of their team, but should the blame and credit always lie solely with the “man in charge”? What really are the Responsibilities of Leadership? And when should the employee take responsibility? Below are some tips for how we, as leaders, can equip our employees to thrive – through both failure and success.
Leadership is not a spectator sport and under no circumstances can you win the game if you refuse to take the field. There are risks with becoming too close with your employees. Pals won’t take discipline very well. But it is important to connect with your subordinates as people. Earn empathy by being authentic and admitting personal errors. Encourage contributions by offering opportunities for collaboration and show genuine interest in the progress of projects. Don’t just blindly say “good job” but tell the employee what stands out to you about their work.
Beneath the success of any project lies the full understanding of its desired outcomes. A team is simply unable to produce victory if they don’t know the rules of the game or the position that each individual plays. You absolutely must have strong lines of communication with your team members. Collaboratively set expectations and regularly check-in. All members of a functioning team must agree on individual roles and responsibilities. This requires genuine commitment, a willingness to listen and compromise, and the understanding that everyone has a different point of view. Each member of a team should be valued and respected and leaders need to be approachable for members that feel something is off track or need additional direction. Also, remember that oftentimes listening is more productive than talking.
What your team needs from you often is situational. Each person has different competencies and commitment levels for completing specific tasks and each of these levels requires different support from leadership. (See “Situational Leadership” by Hersey and Blanchard.) Someone that is eager to learn a very technical skill may require to be micromanaged during the time it takes to build some competency in that area. That same person, very talented and experienced in another arena, may only need you to ask if the task was completed. That individual may still benefit from simple recognition as confirmation you appreciate their follow-through. Once you’ve mastered authentic engagement and communication, recognizing your responsibilities to your people will come more naturally, but determining when and how your team needs you is key.
Leaders will have to distinguish between excusable and inexcusable failures. Inexcusable failures likely require disciplinary action. For other mistakes, focus your energy on what can be learned from the experience but always give honest feedback. Though criticism can sometimes be difficult to accept, it is essential for growth, and you aren’t growing if you are comfortable. The delivery method may require sensitivity for some, but again, if you are being authentic, communicating well with your team, and offering your support where appropriate, constructive criticism is more likely to be well received.
On occasion, what an employee needs to thrive at work has nothing to do with their manager. To address those areas, offer resources as part of, or in addition to, your company’s benefits package such as paid time off, an employee assistance program (EAP), a wellness program, or a chair massage day at the office.