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Guiding Principle #10: You're Only as Successful as Your Manager Allows You to Be

Updated: Feb 1

In my leadership experience, I've come to realize a crucial insight, which I recognize as my #10 Leadership Guiding Principle: "You're Only as Successful as Your Manager Allows You to Be." It might sound a bit straightforward, but it's a principle you may not truly acknowledge until you see it in practice. At the heart of this idea is the crucial alignment of values between you and your manager, which is key to your success; not just about the skills or expertise you bring to a role (biggest misconception). What I've learned, both in the employee and in the employer role, is what is most important, is the level at which your manager perceives the value of the strengths and qualities you bring to the team/organization, and how s/he allows you to utilize them.

Let me give you an example. If your manager places a high value on creativity or innovation, they're likely to appreciate and encourage your diverse ideas and questioning approach. On the other hand, a person with the same values, but with a manager who prioritizes conventional success metrics, might view your inquisitive style as a challenge to their authority or an obstacle to achieving goals. Here, even though you haven't changed, the way your manager interprets your actions can significantly influence the level of success you're able to achieve under their leadership.

This guiding principle holds a deep personal meaning for me because I've experienced it from both sides: as someone enforcing it and as someone affected by it. I vividly remember a turning point that happened about 23 years ago. I was managing a large outpatient facility in a new city and had been in the role for about eight months. During this time, I frequently had to address issues with a team member regarding their absenteeism, tardiness, and work quality. It reached a point where, after following the prescribed disciplinary process, I was about to terminate her employment. In that critical meeting, the team member simply asked me not to terminate her, promising to do anything if she could simply maintain her job.

That's when I had a moment of realization. Maybe the problem wasn't entirely with her; perhaps it was in how I viewed her behavior. So, I proposed a solution: a transfer to another location in lieu of termination. This experience highlighted a key insight: it wasn't just about the individual's actions; it was also about how these actions fit within the framework of my leadership style and values, and how I was in charge of how it would look in my organization. I'm happy to say she accepted the offer to transfer to another location and was an amazing, award-winning care provider. Interestingly, I later took over leadership at the location she transferred to...the learning we both had from our previous experience together allowed us to create a great working relationship, appreciation, and respect between us as we started over... lesson learned!!

While being on the leadership side of issues like these is tough, I can assure you...being on the employee side is even worse! It's critical to recognize one of the greatest failures as a leader is our lack of self-awareness, partially evidenced by our lack of not understanding what we truly value about ourselves, thereby not recognizing what we value in others. By not understanding this, we have no idea what we are looking for when interviewing new team members to become part of our organization. We owe it to them (and to us) during our interview process, not only to know the skills needed for the job, but, I'd postulate even more importantly, what values, characteristics, and behaviors we are looking for in the PERSON of whom we want to be a part of our team. After all, they can be the smartest person you know, but if you simply do not like them, you won't want to be a part of who they are as a person or what they do as an employee. Apologies - I got distracted - this can be one of the most devastating oversights in someone's professional journey; we owe it to those we hire to be thoughtful, get it right, and be the right leader for them! Back to the blog....

At the heart of this principle is the understanding that a manager's recognition and appreciation of an employee's contributions are crucial. If a manager values the person, what they stand for, and what they bring to the organization, they are more likely to acknowledge the significance of the employee’s work, integrating it meaningfully into the team and the broader organizational goals. Conversely, if there's a disconnect in values, the employee's efforts may go unrecognized or underutilized. This lack of appreciation can lead to a mismatch in expectations and misalignments in objectives, hindering the employee's ability to impact the business, implement processes, or drive change. This leads to low morale, motivation, and engagement, long-term it causes "quiet-quitting" or even burnout of employees, which creates a whole host of additional organizational nuances.

This guiding principle emphasizes that a manager's support and recognition of one's contributions heavily influences an individual's success within an organization. It's a reminder for leaders and managers alike to strive for a harmonious alignment of values with their team members, and a call to action for leaders to make an effort and be more conscious to find places in which they align, before and during the employment relationship. Such alignment not only nurtures individual success but also cultivates the collective success of the team and the organization as a whole.

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