BY LOTENNA ENWONWU
When I was a boy, I heard “fear is better than respect”. I took it as you needed to make sure people feared you so respect was always shown. This would lead to tasks always being completed correctly. The meaner you were … the louder you were … the more people would respect and cherish what you had to say. This was thought to be the best way to motivate people. When I started as a creative, I heard all of these stories of all these businessmen, tough-guy types, and how this was the only way to be successful as a leader. These guys would treat their employees like cogs and strike fear in the hearts of those who didn’t consistently hyper-overachieve, leaving staff always stressed by the fact that they might be fired and replaced at any given moment. These anecdotes arose from a time when snail mail and house phones were the most common way of communication. Use ‘em and lose ‘em.
Gone are those days. Gone are the days of broken promises and unrealistic expectations. Gone are the days of verbal abuse being acceptable at the office. Respect is a two way street. You have to give it to get it. Titles don’t demand respect anymore. Today, we jump shops, win awards, and before you know it a 25 year old is a manager, leading some people who might have started their careers before the young general was even a thought.
Young commanders, as a leader, recognize you can learn a lot from those with more life experience; that wisdom is invaluable. Listen.
Older skippers, please keep learning. Learn about the positions you are leading and even the ones you perhaps once held. Those positions, in the current digital and tech landscape, are changing and changing fast. To think they are still the same as they were 20, 15, or even 10 years ago is just being naive. Constantly trying to force juniors to do things in outdated and archaic ways, while not allowing room to learn from your team, will turn you into a dinosaur. Everything is faster now. Pick up the pace and go with the flow, or you will end up a fossil sooner than later.
Options. Options. Options.
Worker-bees have the internet, headhunters, recruiters, job boards, social apps, and options to freelance all over the world. Leaders have to show appreciation for their followers if they intend to keep their followers. Word travels faster now and once your reputation is tainted, it’s tough to get the stench of carelessness off. As we get even more tools to make our jobs easier, the ask from clients are becoming greater. Teams have to be on the same page. I make the effort everyday to work with my unit, as a team, and get to know the guys and gals that work with me. As time passes, we become closer and are willing to sacrifice more and more for one another. Once that trust is there, the culture evolves to something even stronger, and the team is able to overcome inconceivable adversities as one. It’s pretty awesome to watch happen.
Love your team.
Remember they are people. Real people with real families and real lives. Don’t be intrusive but communication is a major key. Build the relationships. Guide them and Teach them. Spend the time to explain their errors. Make them feel comfortable enough to come talk to you. It’s part of being a leader. Probably the most important part of being a leader. Don’t be afraid to apologize or take responsibility when things go wrong. One of the times I remember gaining respect for my leaders was when they felt they could trust me enough to explain what they did wrong on a pitch. It was refreshing to see that anyone can make a mistake, and the best ones acknowledge the mistake and use it as a lesson. Knowing that you trust your team enough to be vulnerable in front of them, they will feel safer and more willing to experiment and PLAY (That’s where you get the most creative solutions). They will cherish you even more.
Remember to protect them. When kids were thrown in the lake to sink or swim, and one sunk, there was always someone there to jump in and save them. Don’t let your teammates drown. And when you save them, pat them on the back and tell them good try, you’ll do better next time. I know I’ve had my fair share of drinks of water. I don’t know where I would be if the support systems, in those instances, were not there for me.
The good fear.
Leaders — Don’t lose the admiration of your team members. When they first start, they look up to leadership and have an abundance of respect for you. Over time, they can either gain more respect or lose it all. It depends on how they see you do your thing. They say people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers. Then your turnover rate says a lot about how you connect or don’t connect with your team. Be strong enough to adjust. Fix the things that need tweaking and do more of the things that drew your fleet to you in the first place. Constantly check-in with your team and listen. If you get defensive they will lose respect and almost never tell you the truth ever again. They know your success is their success. They want you to win.
Ultimately, respect will lead to fear. But not the fear of being punished or embarrassed, but the fear of disappointment. Disappointment from letting down management by not meeting expectations. The fear of not trying their hardest and being the cause of something that matters so much to them being dismantled. The fear of causing a comrade to have to stay late at the office while everyone else is at happy hour. That good fear. Not the kind that is coated in stress but the kind that motivates the team to dig deeper together in the fourth quarter — stay calm, collected, and comfortable enough to trust management to lead them to victory.