I have heard so many stories recently about people being treated badly in the workplace that I wonder what has happened to make this phenomenon so commonplace. Some might say there's too much pressure on everybody. After all, many people are being asked to do more with less because most companies and organizations are going through a period of belt-tightening, but I don't agree with that point of view. I think being mean-spirited in the workplace has to do with something as basic as good manners.
There are all kinds of discussions and meetings about leadership, but too often things as basic as good manners are left out because the people discussing leadership don't have very good personal skills. Just ask some of the people who work closely with some of the top leaders in healthcare. They say things like, "He's one of the rudest people I've ever met. He treats everybody the same, like they are inferior to him." Or how about the remark I heard recently about a top chief executive officer whose management style consists simply of yelling at subordinates and scaring them out of their wits?
I get e-mails all the time from people in the healthcare trenches who ask me for advice on how to deal with supervisors who behave badly. One gentleman told me that he literally had not been able to sleep for weeks because his boss always puts him "down in front of others." I told him to look for other work as soon as possible and to get away from a jerk who treats others with such obvious animosity. There's no room for that kind of behavior in any work environment and the sooner this harassed gentleman gets away from his insensitive boss the better it will be for his mental health.
In a recent issue of the Chicago Tribune, there was an article about leadership. The article caught my attention because it had a different take on working with others in any organization. Barry Merkin, a professor of entrepreneurship at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, says, "Leadership is everything. It's the whole difference between success and failure, without a doubt."
What Merkin was discussing was what it takes to start a new business and make it a success. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, only four out of every 10 small businesses will make it to their fifth anniversary. After 10 years only one of the succeeding four businesses will still be around.
To be successful, Merkin feels people need not only to be able to adjust to change, but they need to learn to take advantage of it. Merkin believes that those companies that embrace the importance of leadership skills have a better chance of being successful than those that don't. He says effective leadership requires resourcefulness, flexibility, tenacity, intelligence, passion and the ability to work effectively with all kinds of personalities. These traits are essential for any leader, with the most important being able to work well with others.
The article includes a profile of a young man who runs a consulting engineering firm called V3 Cos. The company has enjoyed solid growth and continues to do well. V3's CEO, Bob Petroelje, says, "The core of leadership is how you view people." He goes on to say he realizes that the success of his company rests with his people because it is a service firm. Petroelje believes treating his employees right is paramount. "I laugh because most of it I learned growing up on a farm. My folks insisted on my saying 'please' and 'thank you.' It's amazing how far that goes."
Apparently Petroelje's parents also taught him the importance of empowering someone with responsibility and then trusting them to do it. It seems many top executives are so paranoid and suspicious of their employees that they want to run everything themselves. Then they accuse their people of lacking enthusiasm and creativity. After a while people are scared to do anything because they don't want to be made to feel like two pennies by a jerk who not only doesn't know how to lead but has schizophrenic tendencies.
I have a saying about leaders who make their employees feel bad about themselves: "Little people in big jobs." Quality leaders enjoy the successes of their colleagues. They don't put them down. They don't intimidate, they don't yell and they don't take all the credit. They make sure the people they deal with feel respected and worthwhile.
When I hear stories about CEOs and other leaders who spend their time yelling and making their employees' lives nightmarish, I wonder how we have come to this. Management books on how to get ahead are fine. So are articles about the latest management fad, but there should be more books written about good manners. Things like taking the time to listen to someone, really listen, not just making the pretense of paying attention. Or how about sending little handwritten notes to your colleagues to thank them for a job well done? What about lightening up and having a few laughs with those who surround you and make you the success you are?
It really comes down to good manners-they make the difference between a successful leader and a not-so-successful leader. It's caring about others and making sure they know you care through your actions. Sensitivity, tenderness and a willingness to help others succeed shows just how powerful a leader really is. A kind, well-mannered leader has employees who are willing to do just about anything he or she asks. There is evidence all over the place that enlightened leadership can help make any business successful. It means making sure that people not only are treated well, but that the top person practices what he or she preaches. Anything less is hypocritical.
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Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, visit www.chucklauer.com