Just the other day, I was reading a very well intentioned letter written by one of my line level employees regarding some areas in their workplace that were, in their opinion, in need of improvement.  Their letter had been slid under my office door and, to be completely honest, contained some incredible ideas that have now made their way to my to do list.  As I was sitting there appreciating the insight of the note and the consideration of its author, I quietly mused if I were to write a note that would be applicable and truly helpful for leaders of all kinds, what would it say?

RECENT: 5 Lessons from 13 Years in Leadership

The letter below is the result of that reflection.

The male hands with a pen and the cup

Dear Boss,

I want to first start off this letter stating that I know you have a complicated and stressful job. Within the limited scope and vision of my position, I don’t see all of the “moving parts” of your position, nor can I easily relate to the pressure you are under to get the results demanded of you. I am glad that there are people such as yourself that are willing to take on this kind of role and I hope that you know that I don’t question the significant burden of responsibility you carry…quite the contrary! It is out of profound respect that I write these words because I want you to be successful for all the right reasons. We all benefit from positive and effective leadership…so please take the following words as my humble advice to you and to anyone else who has the responsibility of supervising people.

  • Never take for granted the power your position gives to you:  I was once talking to a colleague who stated that “supervisors wield significant power…they can create hope and then destroy it. Lift people up and drag them down. Open doors for some and slam them in the face of others.  And they can do all that in one day at the office!” I hope that you are aware of the influence you possess over us all. Be honest and steady…communicate clearly and respectfully…be dependable and keep your promises…these are all positive contributions towards your credibility.  Conversely, shooting the messenger or humiliating your people in front of others, playing games and placating will always diminish trust and, in turn, impact results. Always remember that your position grants you power; however, your credibility is decided by the character and consistency you bring to the position…and I want to work for a credible leader.
  • Don’t be threatened by the talents and potential of your people: Be secure enough in your position that the talent and innovations of your team excite rather than scare you. Don’t be the glass ceiling that limits gifted people…be their enabler, listen to their ideas, help them refine their craft, save them from blindspots. As you support and allow us to grow, we will most definitely reward you with results. Loyal people seldom betray the trust of their investors so please stop waiting for them to blindside you. Don’t feel like you need to compete with your people.
  • Don’t put off the hard conversations: I know that it is hard to call out and address the behaviors of others…it takes courage to be honest about someone’s performance, especially if you are addressing an individual with a strong personality.  Trust me, you will always be grateful that you did…and so will the individual who is out of line. We all want to know where we stand and we would much rather have you give us the whole picture versus dealing in half-truths or glossing over poor performance.  If you have worked hard to develop trusting relationships with us, these hard conversations will only improve our performance because we will not want to let you down.
  • Don’t attempt to be perfect: Don’t attempt to be perfect…because we know that you aren’t. No matter how hard you try, your humanity shows through and chances are likely that we could name off your primary weaknesses and insecurities without you ever listing them for us. When you make a mistake or a miscalculation, don’t worry about covering it up, do what you would want us to do: own it.  In the end, we won’t assume that you’re weak…quite the opposite, it is the strong and secure leader who openly admits their error and endeavors to correct it.
  • And finally…Don’t try to be my friend: This never works and the consequences of getting too close to your people are always more severe for the boss than it is for his or her associates. Be as friendly as your personality allows…genuinely care about your people, but please do not seek out friendships with them. Once you go there, you forfeit your ability to rate that individual’s performance through an objective lens which will not only give them a false sense of security, but will also severely tick off the people around them. You will make yourself vulnerable and words like favoritism or preferential treatment will be used to describe your practice as a leader. Few things, aside from deeply ethical violations, will destroy your credibility more than these unprofessional relationships.

Please know that it wasn’t easy to write this letter as individuals in my position seldom have the nerve to give advice to the people who are typically the “advice-givers.” However, I want to be the beneficiary of great leadership so that I can do more and become more.  If you find any value in what I have written, then it was well worth the time and the effort.

Most Respectfully,

Your Employee, Athlete, Child, etc.