An effective leader brings out the best in others.
Once in a blue moon—if you are fortunate as an employee—you get to have a boss who is a true leader, who sees and nurtures your full potential. I was fortunate to have such a supervisor in Max.
Max and I established a good working relationship from the beginning. He seemed honest and open while maintaining appropriate mixed-company manners. He was more conservative than I was, so we avoided engaging in conversation on topics that could lead to a heated discussion. Max was my father’s age and had retired from his first career as a chemist a few years before we met. He was working the operations job because he was dedicated to providing financial help to his extended family. He was old-fashioned in that regard and proud of it. Max’s family members, several of whom were involved at the office, spoke of him with high regard, appreciation, and respect. Most of his employees did, also.
Max was well suited to his operations management position. He had a knack for remembering details of customers, contracts, and company property. While I was his direct report, he fostered in me a passion for operations, an aspect of business that had never been of interest to me. His skill at problem solving had me in awe, wondering if I would ever know enough about our business to make good decisions as efficiently as Max could.
I was enrolled in a class toward my MBA while working for Max. When reading the textbook Level Three Leadership by James Clawson, I recognized Max as a skilled leader. I began to observe him more closely and found he consistently demonstrated leadership traits that positively impacted our company from the bottom up. His combination of leadership traits facilitated our company’s high rate of success in fulfilling our contractual obligations and contributed to a high rate of job satisfaction for most of the employees.
One of Max’s key leadership traits was his ability to understand the company’s human resources. He would get acquainted with his direct reports well enough to learn their personal strengths and weaknesses. He was skilled at nurturing relationships in order to manage operations more efficiently. He understood different personalities and who could or could not handle a particular job.
Max was able and willing to be flexible, allowing employees to attend to personal life issues, encouraging “family first.” While some people would take advantage of a manager who embraces a family first philosophy, most of our employees were honest, taking time off of work only when an urgent family matter arose or when the employee was sick enough to warrant a day off.
There were occasions when an employee would fake an illness to have time off and Max would make a mental note of such incident. While he was very good about not holding a grudge, he did not tolerate abuse of the system or other privileges granted. This was for two reasons that I observed: the need for smooth operation of the business and to prevent one employee’s abuse of privileges from affecting the other employees’ enjoyment of the same.
Max had a special skill for interjecting humor into a difficult situation to help an employee see the ridiculousness or hope in a situation. He used humor to lighten the mood or improve morale to stimulate productivity. This was a skill that I had never before noticed in another leader. It was his leadership trait I admired most since my verbal delivery of humor was not nearly as quick as his.
As a leader, Max was able to identify what needed to be done and had a good sense of strategy regarding efficient implementation. Max would jump to fill in for a subordinate when needed, negotiated contracts with prospective clients, and participated in sales and networking events when the President was not available. He wore several hats as if the company were his own. This flexibility demonstrated to all who would observe that a small company’s success is dependent on each employee jumping in to do their share and whatever necessary.
I emulated Max’s whatever-it-takes approach at my first and every opportunity. He noticed.
With Max’s encouragement, I positioned myself to fill in for him when he would eventually retire. I carefully observed his leadership skills and traits and considered them in my interactions with my co-workers as I moved up the seniority totem pole. As a trainer of new employees, I emulated Max’s flexibility and effort to understand a person’s values, assumptions, beliefs, and expectations, skills that make Max a Level Three Leader.
Our company lost a major client after a bidding war. The devastating financial hit was felt first by my peers and me since our pay was commission-based. Most of us could not afford to wait out the next contract cycle. I would have to leave before Max would retire and wouldn’t have the challenge of filling his shoes. I’m sure Max was as frustrated and sad to see me leave as I was.
It has been nearly two years that I’ve been away from his employ. During that time, I have often missed interacting with Max at work. I learned a great deal from this boss, this leader, and I believe I have become a better leader by Max’s example.
Who in your life has been an effective leader, compelling you to emulate some of his or her techniques?
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