Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart

How I went from too nice to just right nice

I know a leader who has no trouble overloading his staff with tons of work without any concern or remorse for how the type or volume of work will impact them. His motto, “I load ‘em down until they crack, that way I know they are working hard.” He gets all he can and then moves onto the next person.

On the other side of the spectrum is servant leadership, which by one definition is, “The subordination of one’s interests to others.”

Unlike my acquaintance above, I see some leaders taking this model too far, spending their time basically kissing people’s butts and/or dancing around the real issues their team faces. I admit to having done this in the past. “When I am in charge things are going to be more open and humane” was my motto.  I got there from being under the thumb of some old school thinking, not unlike the above, for many years. The result was I thought by sheltering people and making their lives easier I would get great work out of them. I was not just subordinating my interest to theirs, I was, at times, eliminating my interest with respect to theirs. I did not get great results, and the result was typically frustration for both of us. Rookie nice leader mistake. I have found the key has been not diminishing my interests in any way. The best thing, both for the people I lead and myself, is challenging people to achieve the desired outcomes and encouraging them to set their own paths to do so.

Another critical element is listening more than talking during the process; listening for what I can do to support them in their career and personal lives as they achieve goals. The result I find, with the right people, is performance the old me could only dream of.

I remember coming into the office late one day, quietly I guess, because what I overheard was not meant for my ears.  A new star employee, one I had great hopes for and who I was being very supportive of in a weak, sheltering way, was on the phone with a recruiter. The words that cut deep were, “Oh yeah, I am ready to move, there is not much going on here.”

There was lot’s going on here, but there was just not much of it on her plate yet. I was making things easy for her in many ways and doing too much myself, not sharing enough of the challenges. I also had no idea where she was at in her life and what her career goals were. Turned out she was far more interested in quick growth than I realized. She told me that in the exit interview as she moved on.

The key to this is balancing the need for results while listening and finding ways to help people achieve their own life and career goals. This is subordinating instead of eliminating. Put the person you lead first, while still holding them accountable, and you will get great results for both of you.