(This is the final installment in the series of guest blogs from Starla Eleson, a leader at Cabela’s. I’ve appreciated her perspective as a working manager/leader involved in developing others and hope you’ve benefited from her insights.)
Recently, one of my retail staff members in the field directed my attention to an article in the company newsletter and asked if I had read it. I had so then he asked me what I thought about it. I told him I thought it was well written and then asked him why he requested my thoughts.
He answered, “Because I wrote it.”
The article’s byline did not list Tim’s name. Had he not told me, I never would have known.
Attribution is one of the easiest ways to motivate and demonstrate appreciation for the value our employees bring to our organizations. In my experience it’s also one of the most common failure points among emerging leaders.
When our “worker employees” – tactical, operations-type folks – are promoted to positions of management, they are often not trained or educated properly on the leadership functions their new roles require. They know there is much work to be completed. They know that they have a team of people available to delegate the work to. They know they will be held responsible for the completion of the work in their bucket, so the delve into it and conduct point-checks to make sure things are running on schedule.
Then, all too often, they show the work of their team to their superiors and it turns into an “I”-fest. “I completed this”, and “I worked on that”.
That approach might work, but only for a time. Eventually the employees of that leader will disengage from their work because they, too, need visible credit for the work they do.
I know because even as a leader, it has happened to me. I thought of an idea to improve operations one weekend, typed it up and emailed it to my boss at the time. He said he’d think about it and I left it at that. Six weeks later, I was copied on an email from an executive that said, “Great idea – make it happen”. It was my idea, copied and pasted verbatim but from my boss. He had presented the idea as his own.
Ouch. Talk about your fast track to disengagement.
Leaders stealing credit for the work of others sounds crazy, but is it happening in your organization? More than likely. Think back to college. Remember the guy or gal who would never show up to the meetings for team projects, and didn’t contribute when there was work to be done outside of class? Then remember the day of the presentation when he or she piped up and contributed to the conversation, as if an active member of the team the whole time?
Those people graduate. And then we hire them. And until someone tells them what leadership is supposed to look like – and what the expectations of the organization are regarding attribution and “giving credit where credit is due” – there is no reason for them to change.
This is where our best leaders have a responsibility to groom and prepare other leaders. As companies and organizations, we need to define our expectations in the soft-skill areas, and then we need to provide the training, education and mentoring to help our people be successful in their leadership roles.
Designing and delivering this type of training program at Cabela’s is one of my key objectives for 2010. I would suspect other companies are finding themselves in the same boat. Our colleges prepare students to crunch numbers and execute strategies. Unfortunately, they do not prepare them to lead others in the way that is crucial to both success and a happy, productive workplace. It leaves us shoring up the gaps in the professional sector.
When putting together the topic list for the program, we knew we’d cover the obvious topic areas: Recognition. Communication. Honesty and Integrity. Change Management.
One of the hidden topics we’ll be adding in is Attribution. Building a culture that supports and rewards attribution IN THE SAME WAY that we support and reward task completion can make all the difference in the world. Until we reward leaders for being exceptional leaders, instead of strictly rewarding them for tactical performance metrics – there is no reason for them to be the “best of the best” at leadership.
I have a prediction as we move into a new decade. The organizations that come out on top will be those that DO have the “best of the best” leaders. That being the case, I need to get cracking on this leadership program. The clock is ticking and I have work to do.
What will YOU be doing?