Managers on Parade

By Lain Ehmann

It’s one of the toughest concepts for managers to grasp: Now that you’re in a leadership role, people actually are watching what you do. In fact, they’re watching you all the time. “Most managers take it far too lightly, but they’re on display,” says Dave Anderson, president of Learn to Lead and author of Up Your Business: 7 Steps to Fix, Build, or Stretch Your Organization (John Wiley & Sons, 2003).

Just as a parent can expect to see their worst habits reflected back to them in their children’s behavior, managers can count on their employees to mirror their own actions, for better or worse. If you’re chronically tardy, for example, don’t be surprised if everyone starts showing up late as well. After all, they’ve determined from your habits that you don’t value punctuality and have adjusted their behavior accordingly.

Every move you make now is also open for scrutiny and (mis)interpretation. If you’ve had an awful morning and are abrupt during a staff meeting, half the room will think you’re about to fire them and the other half will be upset that you haven’t appreciated their successes. Whether you realize it or not, you’re now the focal point of your staff’s work universe.

As a result, Anderson emphasizes that managers need to be conscious of their behaviors. “You have to be very deliberate. You have to understand the impact you have on your people,” he says. The good news is that by constantly upgrading your own performance you’ll encourage your team to do the same.

The best way to start is to take an assessment of your strengths and weaknesses and see where you need to bolster your skills, including your management and leadership expertise as well as selling abilities. Leaders are made, stresses Anderson, not born. “Most leadership qualities are developed, with the biggest key that of being aware,” he explains. “The more you learn about leadership, the more aware you become.”

Expand your knowledge base by reading articles and books, talking with others in similar roles, taking classes and working with experts who can help pinpoint areas for improvement. “Continuing to upgrade your skills is a key part of your job,” he says. “If you grow, you can grow others. If you plateau, you’re going to plateau your whole team.”

Becoming a leader might seem overwhelming at first, but it doesn’t have to be, says Anderson. Start where you are, and try to move yourself to the next level a step at a time. This continuous improvement will pay off, not only in your leadership abilities, but in your team as well. Says Anderson, “It’s not complicated. You just have to be diligent.”

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