As young, budding 20somethings, we start our jobs at the bottom of the totem pole, which means we are subject to the mistreatment and hazing of those who are “our leaders”. Of course, leadership positions come in all kinds of sorts: managers and bosses, planning committees and chair people, organizers and social event coordinators. Some leadership positions are small, others require much more. And, as 20somethings stuck under the scrutiny of those “older” and “more experienced”, we sometimes get frustrated by our leaders, because we think we can do a much better job. So, I interviewed some people, reflected on my own observations, and compiled a list of what I think makes a good leader:
1. A good leader puts the employee first: A few months ago, I noticed someone who is supposedly a ‘leader’ parking in the staff parking spot. Now, this is a very minor offense, but it really made me question this quality of leadership. In most cases, a good leader is in a leadership position because he/she exhibited some kind of qualities above average. So, a good leader should thank those ‘average’ employees who helped the leader stand out. Putting your employees first takes on a variety of approaches; it could mean serving yourself last at the community potluck, letting your employees park at the front of the parking lot, holding the door open, being last in line to use the copy machine, or staying to close up after everyone has left.
And, a good leader uplifts his/her employees. Yes, the person in charge is fundamental, but it ultimately is the employees who are doing the work. The leader might be the idea maker, the organizer, the designer, but the employee does the dirty work. So, a good leader should never take complete responsibility for a job well done and should always recognize the hard work from the employees.
2. A good leader is not afraid to work alongside: Sometimes, I find that people in managerial or leadership positions can have a big ego; they are WAY above you, so therefore, their job is to boss you around. However, they forget that, in order to obtain that leadership position, they probably had to do the same work you are doing. I always had a difficult time listening to coaches and dance teachers whom I knew never reached the same dance level as I did, because their credibility is squashed. Working in the service industry, one of my pet peeves includes working with managers who are ‘too high and mighty’ to do the same work you do. I always had so much more respect–and would work harder–for those managers who would work alongside me, especially during busy times. instead of just bossing me around, these managers would help clear plates, take out the trash, get in the dish pit and start washing. As a minimum wage-bottom of the totem pole employee, I find it easier to work for those who are willing to work in the trenches and not afraid to get dirty themselves.
3. A good leader models good behavior: Being a teacher and coaching a dance team, I believe that I cannot expect my students and team members to uphold certain standards if I do not myself. This includes being late and coming ill prepared; if I show up to practice 10-15 minutes late, how I can expect my dancers to show up on time? If I cannot write an effective five paragraph essay, how can I expect my students to do the same? If I teach about filtering your social media, how can I put sloppy, drunk pictures on my own? I believe a good leader must practice what he/she preaches. Scout Finch experiences this in To Kill a Mockingbird; she loses respect for her teacher after her teacher rants on and on about how terrible the Holocaust was, but still discriminates against the African-Americans in Maycomb. It definitely it hard work, but a good leader is constantly upholding high standards and modeling good behavior because he/she knows the employees are watching, learning, monitoring.
4. A good leader is professional: A good leader is able to separate his/her personal life with his/her professional career. Sure, personalities always clash, but a good leader should be able to sift through those differences and see the job as the most important outcome. This is an incredibly difficult avenue, as I have learned. I worked with another teacher this year of whom I did not get along with. We came from different backgrounds, had different philosophies, and were very competitive with each other. She would make comments to me, neglect to respond to my e-mails, and one time, laughed at a stressful situation I was in. I was personally offended. However, I had to learn how to look past the fact that our personalities clashed–and focus just on the job. It was something I struggled with all year, and am not sure I still successfully fulfilled the task (which is why I am not quite a leader).
Or, we have all had that old, overweight, frizzy-haired boss who is jealous of our youthfulness and projects her negativity of how her life turned out onto us. She undercuts us, tries to assert her authority, and gives us the menial tasks, basically because she has some kind of un-fulfilled desires or regrets about where her life is turning out. So, she takes it out on us, because it makes her feel better about herself. But, a good leader is someone who can see past his/her own imperfections and knows how to filter personal issues out of work relationships.
5. A good leader is present: The most respected administrators in schools are those who stand at the front door and greet students and staff every morning. The best service managers are those who stay in contact with their mechanics–and don’t just hang inside the air conditioned office, shooting guns, and eating Mike-N-Ikes all day. The best boss’ are those that are at the job site, who knows the names of his employees. Being present shows your employees that you in fact are invested in the business and production (and, always keeps them on their toes, because they never know when, where, or how the big man is going to show up).
I think we need to experience all kinds of leaders in our lives; good leaders, to show us how things are done, and bad leaders, so we understand the feeling of oppression. Being a good leader requires so much self sacrifice and I do believe that not all of us are cut out to be one; that is the beauty of a capitalist society.