Leaders, you are more powerful than you know… but with this power comes responsibility

The best job I ever had was totally unexpected. I was asked to manage a call centre providing information to frustrated people who weren’t able to work out the system themselves. Often by the time they reached for the phone to ask for help, they had also reached breaking point. Having no experience with telephony systems and, with a sense of dread at the prospect of managing a team who talk to angry people all day every day, in an environment notorious for monitoring staff performance down to the minute; I accepted the job because it was an honour to have been asked and because it would have been career limiting to turn it down.  

The worst job I’ve had was actually my dream job. I was the team leader responsible for the delivery of a program that had the potential to improve the lives of thousands of people. I believed strongly in the value of the program. I felt that, by association, I was contributing to a truly noble cause.

So, how could my dream job have been so dreadful, and why did a job that I didn’t want to do, turn out to be such a great experience?  

The answer was leadership. Soon after starting my dream job, I discovered that my manager (whom I will call GG – Glenda Gas-lighter) was an unpredictable tyrant. GG was clearly more interested in her own success than in the delivery of the program or the development of her staff. She was one of those people who liked to say that she didn’t suffer fools easily and gave the impression that she thought that everyone was a fool. Ironically, however, she would shamelessly steal good ideas from the ‘fools’ and blame them for her own failures if the opportunity arose. GG issued questionable and ill-considered commands, for what I assumed could only be to ensure that everyone understood her authority. She would chastise staff until it was evident that they felt smaller and inferior to her. 

The impact of GG’s leadership was apparent from day one. The overwhelming emotion staff felt towards GG was caution. She was not trusted, and people feared to find themselves out of favour. The atmosphere in the office was miserable. Everyone was unhappy, staff bickered and gossiped about GG and about each other. Output was minimal and unscheduled leave was high. Despite doing everything in I could do to improve morale, GG’s influence was too great for me to have any real success. I later learned that I had replaced a highly respected and capable person whose response to the toxic environment had been to take stress leave. 

During the time I worked for GG, I grew more and more unhappy, and it wasn’t long before that unhappiness trickled over into my life outside of work. I found myself not wanted to go to bed on Sunday night because the idea of going into work filled me with dread. I began to feel more and more unhappy. My confidence dwindled, and I stopped doing activities that I’d previously found enjoyable. Despite feeling tired all the time, I had trouble sleeping. I began withdrawing from friends and family and found myself becoming more frustrated and irritated. I wasn’t great company, and before long, invitations to social events started drying up. 

This was, without a doubt, an extremely challenging time in my life and one I wouldn’t want to experience again. In fact, I don’t want anyone to go through such an experience.

The call centre, by contrast, was a delightful place to work, and it was all down to the exceptional leadership of a woman I will call CC – Compassionate Carmel.  

CC was a manager in the call centre, and when I commenced, she began both reporting to me and serving as a role model for me. CC understood the correlation between a positive work environment and positive work outcomes. She was interested in the wellbeing of staff, working with each individual at their level, helping them perform at the best of their ability. 

CC knew how to inspire, empower, and coach staff so that they aspired to give their best possible performance. As a result, the call centre won performance awards, and it was, without doubt, the happiest and most productive place I have ever worked.

Personally, I loved my time managing the call centre, and I believe that I performed my role well. Despite a lack of knowledge of (and if I’m honest interest in) telephony systems, my motivation to contribute to the positive work environment inspired me to become an expert. Inspired also by CC’s emotional intelligence, I worked hard to improve my own EQ skills, and my happiness grew in parallel with the development of these skills. As I learned how to increase the service I gave to my staff, I was rewarded by a sense of purpose and contribution. My happiness spilled out of the office into my social life, and I was active and content in every aspect of my life, and those with whom I came in contact with could sense it. 

In sharing these two story’s, I hope to illustrate the profound impact leaders have on the quality of life of their staff. Both at work and outside of the workplace. Unsurprisingly, the environment in which one spends one-third of their waking life is bound to flow over into other aspects of one’s life.  

Leaders understand this: The way you behave towards your staff influences their wellbeing and the wellbeing of society. Your team take more meaning from how you say your words than they do from the meaning of the words themselves. Your team are aware of the time you give to supporting and guiding them, whether you listen to them and speak with them, and how much time and patience you show them. They know when you have their back, and they know when you don’t care. They know which leaders they can trust and which ones they cannot. 

It is a fact that most people who work for toxic leaders, work in unhappy work environments. These people are walking the streets of our towns and cities. Through contagion, these unfortunate people infect their friends and family. Their family and friends go on to infect society and the misery, intolerance, anger and pessimism ripples and multiplies through the community. 

Choose to be kind and respectful. Show your staff love and wisdom. Appreciate your staff for the good things they do. Help your staff grow, and they will help you by performing at a higher standard. Find the uniqueness in every staff member and be grateful for each one. Be aware that it is your job to create an environment where each and every staff member can develop to their full capacity. If you do this, their sense of self-worth will spill out into other aspects of their lives, and you will contribute to a better world. 

Leaders, it is your job to create a safe work environment where staff are protected against gossip and bullies. It is your job to build a happy and joyful workspace. A place overflowing with positive vibes and where people what to create.  

And as a fabulous bonus, when you decide to become a compassionate leader, you will be rewarded a greater joy and happiness yourself. Being kind will bring you more joy and happiness than being cruel.  

Geraldine Taylor

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