Vulnerability is something not every leader gets right, at least not instinctually. That’s one reason Brené Brown’s work is so popular – many of us identify with the daily struggle to be vulnerable with managers, direct reports, and other humans at work. I mean, early in my career, I was scared to ask to work from home because of a bad cold.
And then there’s Scott Jeffrey Miller, executive vice president of thought leadership at FranklinCovey and author of our January Workhuman® Book Club selection, “Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become the Leader You Would Follow.” He lays it bare for the whole world, calling out his “intense personality that’s often turned up to 11” and sharing that he’s been “mean, petty, selfish, and self-absorbed’ in his leadership roles – and that’s just the first page. Of the introduction.
This is a book for the leader within us all. Whether you’re being called to rise up in your organization but lack experience and training, or you’re being groomed for leadership but feel overwhelmed, Scott offers transparency in describing his shortcomings and goes on to share his learnings, principles, and challenges for building vital leadership skills and abilities.
The core lesson of this book is that everyone fails, but it’s what you learn and how you grow that matters. Here are some of Scott’s most impactful lessons for working more human as a people leader:
Challenge 1: Demonstrate humility.
In this first challenge, which kicks off the “Lead Yourself” section, Scott tells a story in which he offends an entire training room full of colleagues with his “profound ignorance and arrogance.” He goes on to explain what he learned when, to his surprise, they all walked out: “Leaders who fail to demonstrate humility … rarely listen to anyone but themselves, and thus miss opportunities and fail to course-correct.”
His applicable challenge for this section is designed to help fledging leaders or anyone who lets their ego get the best of them by helping them become more comfortable in not having all the answers. Leaning on others and hearing their perspectives “is a strength, not a weakness.”
Challenge 8: Model work-life balance.
You can’t be a leadership success if you’re always tired, burned out, and running on fumes. It’s just not possible. And while many modern leaders encourage their team members to use all their vacation time and/or to work remotely when they need to, Scott reminds readers that the best of these leaders don’t just advocate for this behavior – they model it.
“When leaders themselves don’t have a life,” he writes, “they not only look pitiful in the eyes of their teams, they also set a very low standard for how others behave, consciously or unconsciously.” Showing your people the acceptable ways in which they can “live balanced lives that allow them a sense of renewal, purpose, and increased productivity” – and still complete their work well and on time – is the mark of an evolved leader.
Challenge 16: Make it safe to tell the truth.
Trust matters a lot in working more human, and telling the truth builds trust up and down the organization. According to research by trust expert David Horsager, 85% of people believe a high-trust work environment helps them perform at their best. However, Scott runs into issues all the time where even when he asks for direct, honest feedback, people “will still obfuscate and say something like, ‘You’re great, Scott. And I’m great. Everything is great.’”
To counter this, he has learned it’s imperative to “create the conditions where lying isn’t rewarded and telling the truth is safe and even championed” – and it’s the leader’s responsibility to make and enforce this shift.
Challenge 20: Hold regular 1-on-1s.
This one is a no-brainer for anyone who has been following Workhuman for any length of time. Continuous performance management – a development system rooted in feedback, check-ins, and priorities rather than an annual review – is the way of the future. Scott says your humans need 1-on-1s “so they can bring up issues hindering their progress, get feedback and coaching, create a development plan, and problem-solve with you.”
According to the “The Future of Work is Human,” weekly 1-on-1s can have a high impact on engagement: 47% of respondents who reported feeling highly engaged at work checked in with their managers at least weekly, while only 2% of highly disengaged employees and 13% of neutral employees said the same. And, we just talked about how vital trust is – employees who check in weekly as opposed to never are more than 2x as likely to trust their manager.
Challenge 27: Celebrate wins.
This challenge encapsulates the crux of the entire Workhuman movement: “People might be happy to get some free food or gifts out of a celebratory event, but I promise, if you invest the time in recognizing them, you can make a bigger, more lasting impression,” Scott writes.
Perfectionism has no place here – waiting for “very special days” to celebrate wins, rather than doing so in the moment, reduces the impact of employee recognition. “Find legitimate reasons to celebrate … [and] most important of all, use the time you have to invest in recognizing your team’s accomplishments.”
(Scott Jeffrey Miller will present a session, “Management Mess to Leadership Success,” at 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday, May 13, at Workhuman® Live in San Antonio.)
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