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What Kind of Leader Do You Want to Be?

A Gallup survey of more than seven thousand U.S. adults revealed that one in two people leave their jobs to get away from their managers. What’s more, managers are the reason for a 70 percent variance in employee engagement.

Creating and sustaining alliances at work can be tough. During my first job after college graduation, I had two managers in the accounting department at Price Waterhouse—or PwC, as it’s called today. It wasn’t too long into the job when each manager asked me to write an article for two trade publications.

One manager took what I wrote and beat it to shreds, was never appreciative, and ultimately took sole credit as the author. The other manager tweaked the article a little bit, told me I did a great job, and made me the coauthor.

Had the two managers asked me at different times for these articles, I may not have made the comparison between their management styles, but the coincidence in timing created an epiphany. Looking back, it was such a simple thing, but I found myself asking, “What kind of leader do I want to be?” One used me, while the other empowered me. My answer was clear.

After my tenure at PwC, I left the working world to get my MBA and landed at a real estate company called Trammell Crow upon graduation. There I had the good fortune of working for an outstanding boss. He treated everyone with dignity and was generous with his time. We all felt his genuine desire to support us in reaching our goals. He was an incredible influence on my career and life.

Not everyone works for a boss like the one I had at Trammell Crow, but I’ve found that the leaders who leave something to be desired can teach you as much as the bosses who knock leadership out of the park. Good Boss, Bad Boss author Robert Sutton says great leaders need to have the right mindset if they want to get high marks and full engagement from their employees. Here are three practices Sutton believes leaders should follow:

Lasorda’s Law

Tommy Lasorda, former LA Dodgers pitcher and manager once said, “I believe that managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly, you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.” Sutton calls this Lasorda’s law because it captures the subtle balance a leader must find between managing too much and too little.

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Small Wins

Long-range plans are great, but effective leaders know that celebrating incremental wins toward the overarching goal creates momentum. Help your team by breaking down challenges into stages or chunks of time so they can embrace each step.

Sustained Energy

Smart bosses know that managing a team is a marathon, not a sprint. Communicating a sense of urgency as needed helps sustain ongoing efforts more easily rather than confronting your people with a series of emergencies.   

The common thread in each of these practices is tied to how you treat people, how you level off the peaks and valleys, and how you guide individuals with dignity and autonomy. Speaking from experience, people work harder for the bosses who create this kind of workplace environment.

If you find yourself wondering why your team isn’t showing up when it counts, ask yourself how you can adapt Sutton’s practices to your own setting. The hallmark of a great boss is an awareness that success depends on other people. And those people count on their bosses to create a climate where achievement is possible and recognized.

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