Paying it Forward
In the beginning of this year, I was promoted to my first professional managerial position at my company. It was very exciting for me because it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. Being a leader came naturally to me and I’ve waited quite some time to earn an opportunity to manage in my professional life.
When I first started, I implemented all the great leadership practice I’ve personally experienced in my life. I made sure my reps knew I genuinely cared about each of them and worked to motivate each individual with rewards vs. punishment. I had an extremely busy schedule and yet I made sure I set aside specific times on my calendar for each individual. Whenever I made a mistake, I did my best to mend the issue and worked to not repeat the same mistake. I shielded my team from a lot of the stress and pressure that was put on us by senior management to deliver fast results in hopes of creating a positive work environment.
After six months, our company ran a mid-year employee survey to gather feedback regarding each manager’s leadership and results. I went into the evaluation extremely confident, knowing how much thoughtful effort I had invested in the team. Not only was my team performing well, I believed I had built incredible bonds with my sales reps. Needless to say, I was shocked when I received a grade of less than average.
The results showed that I was rigid and uncompromising. I was a less than average communicator. My team felt that I lacked trust in them as individuals and that I didn’t build up their confidence. They also felt that I hid important information from them and was not as forthcoming about the state of our team. As I heard all this negative feedback, I couldn’t help but feel angry and disappointed. Did people know how much I had sacrificed for their well-being? Did they have any idea the amount of effort I had invested in each of them and the thoughtfulness I that I put into every conversation? How could they say anything negative about me when I had done everything I was supposed to? Didn’t they know that I am a much better manager than so many other managers out there?
When my anger and disappointment finally fizzled, I asked myself some tough questions: why did my team say the things they did? And given this feedback, how do I fix the situation?
After much self reflection, I thought about the most influential leaders in my life. I thought about my parents, my teachers/professors, my former managers, and I realized that none of them were perfect. There has only been one leader in my life that has been there for me consistently, perfectly. His name is Jesus. I thought about Jesus’ leadership style. His Word is firm, yet He extends limitless grace. He loves me with His heart abandoned and blesses me with unforeseeable miracles. He guides me with unparallel wisdom that leads to a life more wonderful than what I could even imagine for myself. He allows me to go through trials to shape my character in His image. Most importantly, He forgoes His control and gives me the free will to choose my own path. He doesn’t lead me with a sense of entitlement but by instilling a sense of inspiration to live each day better than the day before. This is the type of leadership I receive daily and this is the type of leadership I need to pay forward.
Though we never deserve it, Jesus affirms us regardless of our performance, whereas I had to admit that I made each team member feel like they had to earn my accolades and affirmation – it was not freely given. Even before Jesus began His ministry, the Spirit of God confirmed that He was God’s beloved Son, in whom He was well pleased. Jesus had no “track record” at the time, yet I believe that He did such great endeavors because He knew that God approved of Him apart from his performance. God built His confidence in who He was even before He had done anything.
With affirmation also comes patience. In the same way that God is long-suffering with me and my mistakes and slowness to do what I know is right, I realized that I would also need to exercise patience with my team when they missed something important or when did not act right away. I would have to let go and give them the freedom to make their own choices, even if it means they might make the wrong choice. I would need to influence through kindness instead of forceful instructions. I would need to be open, honest, and transparent with my team regarding the challenges we face and not be afraid to show my own personal vulnerability. Most importantly, I would need to inspire by example and not simply by words. A few well-strung words may motivate a person for a few days, weeks, even months, but a living testimony is something that they can look to for inspiration every day – it is the way Jesus led and continues to lead us some two thousand years later.
I took my newfound humility to my team. I began the meeting by sharing my own personal struggle and explained why I did things the way I did. I admitted that, while I had the best intentions, I had not been very effective. I laid out a specific plan around the things I would start, stop, and continue doing and I believe people left the meeting feeling that their voice was heard and that something new was indeed in the making.
It’s been over a month now since that turning point and the team has a completely different vibe. The feel is now lighter and more fun and I believe each individual is genuinely inspired to be better than the day before. Our results have drastically improved and I feel I have grown closer to each individual and that I have aligned myself with their goals. Most importantly, I have discovered what can happen when I allow Christ to lead through me by His example. I know that God is working through me to touch the lives of the people that I interact with everyday. By opening up my heart to Him, I allow His wisdom and love to shine through. I pray for every marketplace leader that you would allow God to teach you how to lead, and that you would continue to humble your heart before Him that you might become a clearer reflection of His glory to your workplace and to the world.