Work Glove Leadership
I recently had a get-to-know you conversation with my new supervisor. To prepare for the conversation, she asked me to do something that caused me to reflect deeply.
Bring an inanimate object that represents your style of leadership.
If we don't spend time purposefully analyzing our leadership style, we run the risk of simply doing. Leaders aren't in the positions they hold unless they can produce at a high level. What they are paid to do, however, is to not only keep up their own production but get a high level of work out of their direct reports. At the end of the day, the performance of others determines the effectiveness of a leader.
I ran through the standard leadership quotes and motivational poster messages as I pondered how to best encapsulate my style of leadership. One item (technically two, but who's counting?) that kept coming back to me is my work gloves. To me, there is nothing more satisfying than an honest day's work mowing, hedging, pruning, clipping, and generally puttering around the yard. Time and time again, I've gone to bed satisfied after an afternoon working in the yard knowing that I had accomplished something tangible and worthwhile.
My hope is that those I work with and who I lead find the same level of satisfaction in their work. What can I do to build the capacity of my direct reports so that they come to the job each day excited to work and leave each afternoon pleased with their output? After all, their work, more than mine, will play a large part in evaluating my performance as a leader.
I brought my work gloves into the meeting and began to explain how they represented my leadership style. First, as evidenced by their worn and battered condition, they are highly functional. They are designed to be used, not be put on display. Their purpose is met when they are put to hard work. Since I believe in an honest day's wage for an honest day's work, I want to instill that ethic in my team.
That is done not by email, mandate, or trite team-building exercise. I show my team what I expect from them by first doing it myself. I roll up my sleeves, work alongside them, and push myself to always improve. That alignment of belief and action is the foundation of integrity. If I want those whom I lead to work hard and find satisfaction in what they do, I must first do it myself. It's hard to lead from behind a desk.
Another aspect of the work gloves that exemplify my views on leadership is their personal nature. Work gloves are designed to get the worker right into the midst of the work. Whereas other yard tools, such as lawnmowers or edgers, place a little distance between the worker and the action, work gloves bring you up close and personal.
In the same way, I believe leaders excel by leaning into, not away from, their people. Rather than remaining aloof and distant, personal relationships are the lever by which leaders can pivot workers into higher production. We are relational beings at our core; we want to be seen, be known, and be valued as individuals. When leaders take the time to connect personally with their team members, they exponentially grow their capacity.
The final aspect of the work gloves is how they empower the worker. There are several tools and tasks that can be dangerous without some type of protection. Whether it be using a chainsaw, hauling brush, or pulling boards off a wooden pallet, some jobs require an extra layer before they can be tackled with confidence.
Ultimately, I want to empower those I work with. I do not need them to mimic me, follow me, or otherwise limit themselves by my actions. I need them to explode, to excel far beyond anything I could think of. They should innovate, create, and synergize. The ultimate goal of my leadership, to see those who I lead eventually surpass me.
What inanimate object best describes your style of leadership?