Transcript: The Power of a Leader (EP3)
Brendan Rogers: Hello and thank you for joining us on the culture of things podcast. I'm your host, Brendan Rogers. Before we get into episode three, I wanted say a big thank you to everyone who's taken the time to listen to our first two episodes, especially those that have also taken the time to subscribe, rate and give a review. I really appreciate your comments and support. Thank you very much. Now let's get into episode three.
Today's episode is focused on the power of a leader. This power can be used for good and it can also be used for evil. Well, maybe better put, a leader has the power to create a positive work culture, but they also have the power to create a negative work culture. I was talking to a friend of mine called Jess some weeks ago, Jess told me about a recent experience she had at a workplace where the leader's behaviour created a negative work culture. This experience had a very real impact on her mental health and her relationship with her family. We also contrasted this experience with the time she'd worked with leaders who use their power to create a positive work culture and how this environment was far more conducive to improve team performance and her own work performance. I started by asking Jess to share an experience she had where the leader, created a positive work culture.
Jess: I had a great leader when I worked in conferencing. She wasn't that much older than me, but she was really patient. I'd come into the role with no experience. I had been on the reception desk and I had been, I'd done well there, so they moved me into the conference department. She was really patient. She took her time to go through everything with me, but more importantly, when I made a mistake, I wasn't accused of anything. I wasn't blamed for anything. It was a time to sit down and learn. Re-learn what I needed to. I never felt scared or intimidated or, and it gave me the environment to, or I had the courage to try new things and go out on my own and think, Oh, I'm not sure, but I'll do it anyway because I know I'm not going to get screamed at for doing it wrong.
My manager is just going to go through it with me and show me any errors. And that was a really great working relationship because it's, I mean I think a lot of bosses want the people that work for them to use their initiative and I felt comfortable to use my initiative in this role because it was encouraged and if I weren't wrong I wasn't damned for it. When other roles I would have been completely too intimidated to show any initiative in case I got it wrong. But this role was, she was amazing. Just so patient and I think, I mean especially for my personality, it was great for me and everyone that worked around her felt the same.
Brendan Rogers: As you heard. Jess and her personality really appreciated the supportive and patient style of that leader. Off the back of that, I asked her how that support and patience helped her and what impact it had on her work.
Jess: Oh, it just gave me confidence. I was just confident in everything I did because I know I could go to her with a question anytime and she would stop what she was doing and not just tell me the answer but go through the answer with me. I had the confidence to show initiative, so if I saw something that needed to be done and know that I think I could probably do that. I did it, so I saved time and it was great.
Brendan Rogers: Based on what Jess said, you could really feel how that Leader had created a positive environment for her and the leaders power was really being used in a good way to work with Jess, to support Jess and to make her have a really positive work experience. Naturally, we then got on to one of the negative experiences that Jess had. Jess shared with me the power of the leader and how that power had been used to create a negative work experience.
Jess: Yeah. This was a completely flip from the other one. This manager was a bully. She micro managed the team, and everything I said before I didn't do this. I didn't show initiative which looked bad on my report because I was just too scared because if I did it wrong, it would be pulled apart and criticised and usually this was done in public. I think that was one of the main things. Everything was done in front of everybody else, so to stop that happening, I just, I didn't show initiative, I didn't do anything because then that wouldn't happen to me. So I didn't particularly learn or or want to learn. It was a very stifling environment for me and she micromanaged every little thing that we did. It was mentally and physically draining.
Brendan Rogers: Maybe some of our listeners can relate to what Jess has just shared either with past experiences or maybe with current experiences, and this is where Jess then shared with how the specific experience and the negative experience in this place impacted her personally.
Jess: Oh, it was a really awful time in my life. It was 10 months of torture and I really feel sorry for anybody having to go through that. It was 10 months of coming home crying of bad dreams of not eating, just doubting myself. I'm not believing in myself thinking that I was rubbish at what I was doing. I just, it was just, uh, it was just such an awful time just going on the train and just feeling sick to the stomach every time I got near my station and having to walk through the door knowing that what mood my manager was going to be in, what email I have been sent, if I was going to get a hello that morning and it just physically and mentally just drained me and that nothing's really impacted me that much before.
Brendan Rogers: This negative experience really impacted Jess personally. As I said, I've known Jess for many, many years and I know how close she is to her family and children and I just had to ask, how did this experience and this negative workplace and this sort of leadership impact on her family and the way she was coming home?
Jess: Yeah, my family suffered just as much as I suffered because I came home just emotionally drained and I really didn't have have the energy or the inclination to really want to join in any family drama. I just really wanted to go to bed and just be on my phone. Just have quiet around me. I have a great family that really let me do that, but I missed out because I really enjoy my family and I want to be a part of it and it kills me when when I'm not, but just mentally I didn't have anything. And my husband just saw me in tears most of the time because just knowing I had to go back there the next day or after a great weekend, I had to go there on the Monday. I just, it just impacted my whole family.
Brendan Rogers: Jess was visibly upset when we were talking about the impact of her workplace and the impact that that had on her on and her family. We got to a point in the conversation where we started about how could this situation have been improved. I asked Jess about feedback to the leader and I explained to Jess my belief that I don't think that anybody wakes up in the morning wanting to do a bad job. So I don't think any leader wakes up wanting to be a bad leader. So I asked her, what sort of feedback did you give the leader and did you feel comfortable giving the feedback to the leader?
Jess: How did I provide feedback to the leader? From personal experience, I didn't, but I could talk to her about my colleague because I think she bullied my colleague a lot more than she bullied me. And she, it came up when I was in her office about my colleague and how quiet she was. And I told my manager to her face that she is scared of you and my manager, well she giggled and said, Oh, I don't want anybody to be scared of me. I said, well, she is, she's scared of you. And I kind of went home wondering how this would go. I wonder if it would make a difference. I was quite intrigued. It didn't make any difference. None at all. She, she didn't take any different approach to my colleague after I told her that my colleague was scared of her and in truth, she was terrified of her and yet she did absolutely nothing.
Brendan Rogers: I thought the way that Jess gave feedback to the leader was quite an interesting approach on behalf of her colleague. Through the conversation, I started to realise that Jess was really testing the water before she felt like she would put herself out there and give direct feedback to the leader. It was a bit of a test to see what the leader did. And as you can hear from Jess, the leader failed miserably. Nothing changed. You'd be pleased to know that Jess moved onto a different role and we talked about that and I asked her what's the difference in comparing her previous role, the recent negative experience and to her role currently.
Jess: Night and day is the difference. Now I only work with a consultant. My big boss and any help that I need is actually in Perth. So I have to ring Perth for any help. But when I started, everyone rang me to introduce themselves to me. And to say hi, I got emails from everyone to say hi and welcome and if you need any help. And I was just so surprised that I talked to more people and know more people when they're halfway across the country. Then I did sometimes in an office where they set two meters away from me. It was, I just feel so supportive. Every emails always get in touch if you need any more help, don't be afraid to ask. It's just such a supportive environment. And again, I'm finding my feet in using initiative to try and work things out for myself and doing them. And I would say 80% of the time it's, it's worked and I, and just to have the freedom and the confidence to do that again is, it's lovely. I'm coming home, I'm joining my family, I don't really have to think about work. I don't think about work until I have to go again the next morning. And to me that's what it's about.
Brendan Rogers: It's so good and pleasing to know that Jess has moved on and she's now in a much happier work environment for her. And she actually feels supported and cared for by her leader. Given Jess's contrasting experiences. I asked her to share what she believes is the power of a good leader versus the power of a bad leader.
Jess: The power of a good leader is amazing and now really experiencing both. I know the power of a good leader is they are interested in their employees. They want the best for their employees. They want their employees to enjoy what they do. They support their employees. They have patience with their employees. The bad environment is they have no care of their employees whatsoever. How they treat them, it's about getting the end result always about the end result, not how it's gotten and they will trample over you, make you work your fingers to the bone. They just, they just don't care and you don't work as hard. Like I said, I didn't show initiative. I didn't work as hard for them because I was too scared and now I'm in a positive environment, I'm working so much harder because I have the confidence to work harder.
Brendan Rogers: It's interesting how we can often pass judgment on leaders and good leaders being good people and bad leaders must be bad people. Jess has a perspective on this and this is what she said.
Jess: I don't think any of the bad managers that I've worked for are bad people. There were, I mean they’re parents, I could see good things about them. Just their personality got in the way. They're just not leadership material. I couldn't knock her at her job. She knew everything about the job. It's just she had no people skills whatsoever and no understanding of how different people work together and what they need. It's just get the job done, get the job done, but inherently no, I don't think anybody's really a bad person, just, they just do not have the people skills. And sometimes maybe that's their manager's problem, not giving them those skills. But in this company that I'm talking about, I would say the top managers people's skills weren't the best either. So what they're learning from them, they're passing on to us. It was a vicious circle, so I knew nothing would get better because it was coming from the top and there was nowhere to go.
Brendan Rogers: Jess and I spoke a lot about her own individual experiences, both in a good and bad environment with a good and bad leader. We also spoke about the impact on team and the teamwork. I asked Jess what the negative environment and the impact had on teamwork and the group.
Jess: Oh, it's a funny situation to be in a team with a bad leader. It's, you're walking on eggshells all the time because you have these sort of your friends but you're not, you know, some people are going to throw you under the bus as soon as they can because they're just as terrified and we would try and work together. We, nobody liked her. We try to work together to try and keep things away from her. If we spotted mistakes, we try to, get to that person and get them changed before they were noticed and all of that where she wouldn't even say hello to the rest of us. And that person got more and more like her every day. It was, it was weird. And, it really caused a split in the team because I didn't particularly want to work too much with her and I really wasn't telling her too much what I was thinking because I knew it'd probably go back. So I had a colleague that was very untrustworthy in my eyes, you know, and in a way I can't blame her because if you've got the choice to be liked by someone or terrorised by that person, you're going to probably suck up to them if you think they're being nice to you. So it's not something I ever blamed her for. But yeah, the whole team was very split and had sides and it was a very unnerving place to work.
Brendan Rogers: It's amazing the impact that a bad leader has on the dynamics of the team. Jess talked about the lack of trust, the division in the team and the dysfunction that was occurring in the team just as a result of this leaders actions. I then asked her to contrast how this experience transformed for a good leader and a good environment.
Jess: Oh, it's just being in an office where everyone is friendly and you can have a chat, you can call over the office and have a chat and a giggle and you get on with your work. And we used to socialise every now and again. It's, you're coming in working with friends and yeah, I mean things go on in offices. There are little arguments sometimes and sometimes, you know, some people do need to be pulled up. But there are respectful ways to do that. But just to come in and just chat and talk and get on with your work. When it's not like that, there's a heavy cloud around you all the time and when you're in an office that is just friendly, respectful, it's like the sun shining.
Brendan Rogers: I really like Jess's analogy where she shared about being in a bad environment. How it's really like a a cloudy day. Whereas having a good leader, creating a good environment is like walking in and the sun shining. It really puts it into perspective. Jess is a normal everyday average worker. She's not aspiring for any leadership or management positions and with this in mind, I just asked her what does she expect from a leader?
Jess: Any good leader needs to show respect first and foremost. That's the first building block. When you're dealing with employees, in my opinion. You need to respect who they are as a person, how they learn, what they need and how they're going to help you grow your business the best way. Respect is talking to them in how you would like to be spoken to. Treat them how you would like to be treated. It's not hard really because I'm sure any bad manager would not like to be in the situation that they're creating for other people. And maybe that's what they need to think about, but it really respect in how you're dealing with the person next to you.
Brendan Rogers: Respect. It's such a simple word. It's said a lot, but it doesn't always come through in the behaviours of leaders and people in a workplace. But I agree with Jess. It is the absolute foundation of great leadership and great working environments. People showing respect for each other. If people find themselves working for a poor leader or they find themselves in a poor work environment and a bad culture in the workplace. I asked Jess to share what sort of advice would you give to those people?
Jess: Try not to take it so personally. Don't let it dent your confidence in what you can do and who you are. Try and leave work at work. Be yourself when you come home. But I was in that situation. I know how hard it is. I'm a really quiet personality and I find it hard to speak up. I didn't in this situation. Looking back, I still don't know if I could because in my situation others had tried and failed. But if you are able to speak up or talk to a professional about it, please, please do. Because there probably is something you can do. Like I said, I just didn't want to go down that route, but I'm sure others could more successfully and make a change for everybody in their workplace because there is things can be done and I just personally didn't want to. But there is the help out there for people that that want to, if you're going to stay, that's probably going to be your only option. If you've got no way of getting out. I was lucky enough to be able to resign, but if you can't just speak up or get out, if you can, get out.
Brendan Rogers: I appreciate the courage Jess showed in sharing her experiences. Leaders have so much power in determining the culture of their workplace and the impact they have on people's experience at work. This power should not be taken lightly. As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker in Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. It's fantastic to hear Jess’s experience with good leadership. It's sad to hear her experiences with poor leadership. It's even sadder to know that there are many more people out there who have experienced the greater proportion of poor leadership compared to good leadership.
On reflection of my chat with Jess, these are my three key takeaways.
Number one, good leaders show respect. They make the person feel that they matter. Jess referred to when a good leader supported her and showed patience. This was respectful to Jess’s personality and how she liked to be treated.
My second takeaway, poor leaders and poor work environments have a massive impact on the individual's mental health, which leads to an impact on family and friends. This was evident with Jess when we spoke. Her bad experiences really impacted on her, which flowed into her engagement with her family.
My third takeaway, if you find yourself in a situation where a poor leader is having a negative impact on you and the work environment, speak up. Have the courage to provide your leader with feedback. Most will appreciate it and will want to improve. After all, I don't believe anybody wants to be bad at their job, including leaders. To all current and emerging leaders out there, use your power for good.
If you have any questions or feedback about this episode, please feel free to send me a firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time.
Outtro (with music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.