Like so many people, I used to believe leaders were born – selected for destinies that were created for them or they were simply thrust into.  That is, I believed this concept until I read John C. Maxwell’s book titled, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership where he suggested that opportunities were presented to each of us routinely that allowed anyone to hone leadership skills. Leaders could be built???  It was 2003 and I was a new executive groping for matchsticks of advice…anything that could help me understand how to respond to a fast- paced work environment.  I embraced his principles and still turn to my worn copy looking for nuggets of advice to share with new or aspiring managers.

I was recently coaching a new manager on his leadership skills.  He had been thrust into a leadership situation where he was a first-time manager: he was younger than most of his direct reports, the team was struggling with the workload, the organization and customers were struggling with the team, and so on.  I asked him what he thought he could do to bring the team together.

I am baking them cookies.

Why are you baking them cookies?

So they like me better.

While I will not disclose the remainder of the discussion, this does provide food for thought (no pun intended) regarding new managers and aspiring leaders.  Baking cookies for your team is a generous gesture and hopefully they appreciate your magnanimous efforts after a busy day at the office.  However, what they probably prefer is you showing up as their leader.  Note that I did not say Manager.

Here are a few helpful hints of small steps you can take to elevate your leadership game. Practice them, and people will follow you.

Recognize that your team will first respect your technical knowledge before they can jump to following your cultural values.  Roll up your sleeves and learn about their pain points.  How can tiny deposits of your knowledge benefit them?  Share freely with the knowledge you have acquired to make their day easier.

Learn from them.  Every one of us has special skills to offer and determining what those are for each associate personalizes the employee experience.  They feel valued and their contributions keep flowing.  You learn what opportunities they can share with other team members and how you can contribute to their continued growth and development.

Communicate, and then communicate more.  Our employees are many things, but they are not mind readers.  Remember that you were probably promoted because of your technical knowledge, so when instructing start at the beginning, not somewhere in the middle of an explanation.

Listen.  Instructing is important but listening is just as important. You have probably heard you should listen to learn, rather than to respond.  It is a cliché, but so many people do not practice it.  Master this and it will serve you the remainder of your life, not only in your career.

Advocate for them, but also hold them accountable.  You are not their friend; you are their boss.  Recognize the distinction.  Be a cheerleader for your team.  Acknowledge their accomplishments, and when a customer or CEO pounds on your desk about wanting more, be factual about what your team can deliver.  And then, when making assignments, provide a deadline and set expectations for results.

Follow Through.  If you say you are going to do something…DO IT!!!  And provide it on or before the deadline you committed to.  When you fail to follow through you unravel all the great work you have accomplished with your team. They have exceptionally long memories and are always watching you.

So, if you want to bake cookies for your new staff, do so.  But please recognize that this is not a substitute for leadership.

Does this resonate with you?  If you would like to inquire about Leadership Development for your organization, please provide your contact information on my website.  Courses and virtual courses can be customized for your needs.