The #1 Responsibility of a Leader is Helping People Grow

Managing a workforce made up of four generations creates headaches for a lot of people. Differences in language, mannerisms, dress, and attitude are visible and sometimes volatile reminders of how things change.

That some people say, do, and wear things that are inappropriate at work is nothing new and no reason for alarm. That supervisors and co-workers do not correct such inappropriateness and offer guidance regarding what is appropriate is also not new, but it is a growing reason for concern.

Since the beginning of time, people have challenged the status quo with music, clothing, slang language, and behavior that others view as weird or outrageous. Acting out is a normal part of growing up, a testing of different identities on the way to developing one’s own unique personality.

Where this process is guided, it’s healthy. Where it is left to find its own way, it often becomes problematic not only for the person growing up, but for others, too. We all know some of “those people” who never quite completed the journey. In business this can create a real liability.

Wise guidance consists of knowing when to turn a deaf ear or blind eye and when to correct errant behavior for the sake of helping people grow. There are two primary aspects of good guidance: expectations and feedback.

Expectations are funny things. We all have them, but sometimes we keep them secret from others. Sometimes we assume that because people work in the same company, and maybe in the same department, they know what our expectations are. This assumption is often wrong and it almost always leads to unnecessary conflict and wasted energy in sorting things out.

Here’s an everyday example. A project manager issued a meeting notice to seven people, assuming that because they all worked together on a project, they would all attend the meeting. Three didn’t. The project manager was upset. He felt disrespected by his teammates and stymied by their lack of support. His expectation was unstated, but to him it was obvious: when you’re invited to a meeting you show up.

The three who didn’t attend the meeting were angry because the project manager had not checked their calendars before scheduling it. They felt disrespected and left out. Their expectation, also unstated, was that they would be consulted about a workable meeting time before it was scheduled.

This seems like a very petty reason to be upset, but where people are edgy anyway, all it takes is a few of these missed signals for people to start referring to each other as jerks. If they’re of different ages, it’s easy to blame “generational issues.”

Feedback is the second element of good guidance and it is distressingly rare. Rather, effective feedback is rare. Rude comments, rolling eyes, and shrugged shoulders are all forms of feedback, but they don’t convey any meaningful or actionable information.

I’ve talked to hundreds of people about feedback and when I ask why it is so difficult, most of the time I hear about the dangers of being “judgmental.” Nobody want to be charged with discrimination. Nobody wants to be sued. Nobody wants a subordinate with a bad attitude because he was corrected.

Of course not. But if knowledgeable people refuse to use their better judgment, be discriminating in their thinking, and correct inappropropriate behavior, how does anyone learn? How do organizations continue to grow? How do people develop pride in their work?

Helping people grow (up) is hard work. It’s often thankless. But it is a primary responsibility of those in leadership and management positions. If that’s you, please remember that any time you see something sub-standard and ignore it, you set a new standard.

Categories: Leadership

About Susan Marshall

founder susan marshall

Susan A. Marshall is author, speaker and founder, whose mission is to create a stronger, more confident future, one person or team at a time.  Through personal experience and hands-on work with executives from diverse industries at all levels, Susan has had the privilege of helping thousands of people do the difficult and exhilarating work of growth.