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Management: How To Be A Better Leader

About a month ago we took a trip to our local mall. We were hungry, so we decided to stop in at Wendy’s to get something to eat.

“Nice,” I said to myself, “no line.”

There was one young girl working at the counter and we quickly placed our order. She asked us to repeat some of our requests a few times, so I gathered she was new. No biggie, we’ve all been there, right?

Well, what happened next was painful to watch, and I really felt bad for her.

She attempted to make an ice cream float or some such and she obviously didn’t know how to do it, seeing as how the drink exploded all over the machine and part of the back wall. The people prepping the sandwiches, who are practically right next to the counter, did nothing to help her.

I watched the young girl try to get the rest of the order figured out, leaving the mess at the ice cream station. At this point, I began to get angry.

A different woman who was prepping the burgers placed them on our tray and smiled politely, though paused because she saw a disdained, annoyed look on my face. I wordlessly pointed to the ice cream station. She turned to look at it…and then looked back at me with a questioning look on her face as if to ask, “what?”

“I think she needs some help.” I said softly, so as not to make the counter girl feel any worse than she probably was. The last thing she needed was an irate customer getting angry with her.

About fifteen minutes later, there was a line out the door and we finally received our food. We sat down to eat and I silently counted the minutes until a manager finally showed up to help out the counter girl who was obviously new and overwhelmed.

It took twenty minutes…not including the fifteen minutes it took to get our food. I wanted to say something, but the people in line were angry / hungry and the last thing they needed was someone getting in the way of their food.

How many times has this particular situation happened to you?

Let’s face it, some people really suck at being a manager. I’m writing today to get off my chest what I believe constitutes as being a successful manager…if you happen to take anything positive from this article, all the better.

Feel free to skip all of the below if you are intimately familiar with Star Trek: The Next Generation.

WWPD: What Would Picard Do?

1) Know every job of every worker under you.

Any moron can slap a manager sticker on their chest and pretend they know what the heck they are talking about. Being a manager is more than just doing management jobs like organizing the timesheet and handling crew assignments…it’s about being in control of everything that makes your business function.

Following that line of thought, should anything happen to an employee who is the only one who knew their job well, you’re left stuck trying to reinvent the wheel. If you know anything about management, you know that redundancy and doing double work is inefficient and crippling to a business.

2) Accept responsibility.

As a manager, you are ultimately responsible for what goes on around you. The idiot employee who decided it would be fun to turn aisle eight into a slip n slide for his next YouTube video, for example, falls on your shoulders. The moron who is daring customers to chug a shot of cinnamon? Yep, you’re responsible for that too.

You are responsible for training and keeping an eye on your employees. Speaking of which…

3) Establish a GOOD training program for new hires.

Training a new employee well is extremely important. What they do affects YOUR business. Employees need to know their job in order to be efficient, and that is the bottom line.

In the story I wrote about above concerning the Wendy’s cashier…she was on her own for over a half hour, flustered, and not sure what she was doing. If I were the manager of that store, I’d have someone by her side for at least a week while she learned all of the appropriate responsibilities and functions. Then, following that week, schedule someone else to be on a second register during her shift so that she could ask questions should she need to. If, after a month of training and guidance she still wasn’t showing ANY sign of progress, I’d let her go. Some people aren’t cut out to be in certain professions…but you should at least give them the proper chance for them to prove that one way or another.

4) Be open to suggestions, criticism, and process improvements.

I had / have the hardest time with this one, mainly because I have a habit of thinking that I know everything and thus am always right. It’s very easy to slip into the mindset that, “well, I’m the boss and I’m smart, so I know what’s best.”

No matter how good you are at something, there’s always someone out there that can probably do it better than you. It’s hard to believe that the fry cook currently picking his nose with a plastic spork would come up with an idea that would actually improve efficiency and save you money, but it’s possible.

A good manager meets with their employees regularly, listens to their concerns and ideas, and treats them like part of the team. Employees that feel like just another cog in the wheel are less inclined to give their best and care about doing so.

5) Establish cross training programs and hold regular training classes.

It’s important to keep everyone on the same page. It’s human nature to make mistakes and there might have been semi-relevant information that you neglected to inform a new employee that you were training. Keeping regular training classes helps to keep people all on the same page and perhaps help remind them of things that they may have forgotten.

Cross-training is equally as important. People have lives. Kids get sick. Family members pass away. Managers should always have a backup should someone call off for whatever reason, and that backup should know the job just as well as the person they are temporarily replacing. As I said, reinventing the wheel on the fly is inefficient and stupid.

6) Promote a safe work environment and train your employees on basic first aid.

Last year I took a first aid course at work as part of my training to be on the first response team that is called upon during bad situations. I learned CPR and how to recognize certain medical conditions and their proper responses. I honestly enjoyed the class as I got to learn things that would be useful during a crisis.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have people who knew a thing or two about first aid should I ever collapse at work. Knowing what to do in a crisis situation should be an important part of an employee’s training. Granted, bad situations seldom happen around an office setting…but when it does happen, I’d rather my team and I be prepared in case lives were at stake. If you’re serious about being a manager, include a first aid and safety awareness program as part of your curriculum.

Likewise, include any proper security training necessary for any possible scenarios that may present themselves while you are working. Stress that employees should not try to be heroes, but to keep a cool head and make the best decisions that would ensure the safety of all involved.

7) Lead by example.

You can’t expect your employees to follow proper work ethics if they see you chugging a bottle of Jack Daniels at your desk. As the manager, you set the standards. Don’t do anything you don’t want your employees to do.

8) Crack down on improper workplace etiquette.

There is a reason that people should put their phones on vibrate or silent throughout the work day. There is a reason that people should not be yelling over cubicle walls. There is a reason you should have headphones on as opposed to blasting your radio out loud for all to hear. There is a reason you are not allowed to come to work dressed like David Bowie from Labyrinth.

People are there to work. They have deadlines. The last thing the working people need to deal with are distractions from other people. Creating unnecessary disturbances is both rude and inappropriate. Take your personal calls into the break room or kitchen. Take your smelly behind into the bathroom and stay there until the funk clears. Remember to use inside voices. Don’t take a shower in Axe Body Spray because you believe that it may lead to “serious close encounters.”

As a manager, you shouldn’t be letting this kind of thing slide. The people who do follow protocol will thank you.

9) Be organized and prioritize.

Being a manager means you will be required to multi-task between your own job and of those reporting to you. If you want to survive, get a handle on keeping all of your thoughts in line. You can’t do your job if you’re constantly forgetting what it is you’re supposed to be doing. Keep a running list of your current responsibilities and prioritize them so that when something unexpected happens, you’re not buried alive.

10) Don’t ignore emails / complaints and expect the problem to go away.

One of my pet peeves as an employee is being ignored. If a business truly valued my input, they’d have to take what I had to say seriously. Unfortunately, not all businesses are employee oriented and to be frank, there’s not much an employee can do but suck it up or find somewhere else to work.

If you’re a manager and you want a successful business where everyone is happy and efficient on the other hand…

It’s important to respond to emails / complaints timely and properly. The last thing you want is having to deal with water cooler conversations that bring nothing but a negative atmosphere to your work environment. Unhappy employees are often inefficient employees…after all, why should they care?

If you want to be a successful manager, listen to what your employees have to say and acknowledge that you received the email / complaint. You may not agree with the employee, but it is better to address the disagreement and talk it out as opposed to letting it sit and snowball into something bigger.

11) Don’t make racist / sexist comments.

I had a boss once who HATED his job. He was a miserable little douchebag who was rude and inappropriate. He’d make regular comments about women and I quote, “We don’t need no stinking women.” I interned there for about a month, long enough to meet my internship requirement, and left.

Oh, and don’t tell your employees to work on their off time. The same asshat told me that the previous “woman” (he called them “skirts”) used to get his lunch on her lunch break and expected me to do the same. I quickly made myself unavailable during my lunch breaks…and overtime when he really needed it.

12) Give credit where credit is due.

No one is going to want to work for someone who takes credit for other people’s hard work. You’d be surprised how far positive reinforcement goes in the workplace. Even better managers take it one step further and treat their employees to lunch once in a while to help break the ice or to congratulate them for all of their hard work in meeting a quota or deadline.

Giving positive reinforcement to your employees increases their chance of praising your name to YOUR boss. Ever hear of, “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours?” Yeah, it actually happens.

13) Don’t make promises that you can’t keep.

You know your life as a manager is over when people have zero trust in your ability to lead. You get frustrated, the employees get frustrated…it’s a no-win scenario on both sides. Your employees need to trust you, and making shallow promises that you never intend to keep won’t help your credibility as a leader.

14) Less finger-pointing, more problem solving.

Assigning blame is easy to do…hunkering down and figuring out a solution to a problem is much harder. When employees make mistakes or do something wrong (and they will), dressing them down in front of all of their co-workers isn’t the way to do it.

A good manager not only helps to fix the problem, but to figure out why the employee made the mistake in the first place. Utilizing regular training courses (like I mentioned above) can help alleviate the “didn’t know” factor, but perhaps there are other reasons that aren’t apparent.

A manager is only as strong as their weakest employee.

15) Learn to let go.

Your employees aren’t going to learn and grow if you’re constantly looking over their shoulder, micromanaging everything they do. Keep an eye on them and be available, sure…but doing their job for them because you are a control freak isn’t going to help anyone.

As I mentioned in #4, there are people out there that may very well do things better than you. Maybe one or two of your employees will surprise you with a process improvement that saves you time and money. It won’t happen however if you don’t let them grow in their current position.

I’m sure there are plenty more, but I have passed my usual word limit and have defecated all over it. I’ll leave you with one final thought.

Most people are frustrated with their jobs, but due to the economy and the way things are, people have no choice but to stay where they are at…unless they are very lucky. Keep in mind that if you do work for a bad company or boss, that you shouldn’t take it personally. Remember that who you go home to each night, whether it be your wife, husband, kids, or pet…they are the ones that really matter. If you do find yourself in a no-win scenario at work, keep your head down, do you work, update your résumé, and try to stay cool. The last thing you need to do is bring the stresses of work home with you.

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