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3 Ways to Set a Great Example for Employees

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

Being a manager means you're in charge of a group of people and a business function. You assign tasks, you probably have financial goals and you are responsible for everything that happens. When things go wrong, the people up the chain will want to know what mistake you made and what you are going to do to fix it. It's a lot of responsibility.

Some managers think the above is plenty of responsibility, but great managers know that there is one more critical thing they need to do: take care of their people.

Here are three things all managers should do to be a good example for their staff.

Take the Blame, But Share the Praise

This is the exact opposite of our self-preserving instincts. Whenever something goes great, well, it was because did this. And whenever something becomes a complete disaster? It's because you did that. In reality, that's often the case. (I assume my readers are awesome employees.) Sometimes, you need to correct errors and sometimes you need to discipline people for their errors, but as a manager, you also need to think carefully about how you do this.

Consider the following situation: You have a multi-part presentation that your entire team worked on. Senior management is thrilled with the outcome and applauds you for the work. You respond, "Thank you, I worked very hard on this project."

How does your staff feel? "I worked very hard?" they'll mutter. "We all worked very hard!"

Even if you thank your staff profusely behind closed doors, your communication to leadership shows that you don't value them. Instead, you should say, "Thank you, the whole team worked very hard. I'm especially grateful to Celine for the data, James for the analysis, Juan for running communications with the finance team and Barbara for pulling it all together at the end." Your employees will walk around with smiles on their faces and will want to work hard for you in the future.

On the opposite end, you should take credit if your presentation tanks. Don't say, "Yeah, my team really screwed up. I'll fix it and get back to you." Instead, apologize. "I should have caught these errors sooner. I'll take it back to my team, we'll fix it and get back to you."

Be What You Want Them to Be

You hired your team because they have different skills than you have, but you do want to set examples for attitude, leadership style and communication. If you want them to be out-of-the-box thinkers, be one yourself. Don't just say you encourage creativity and then go back to the same solutions you've been using since 1974. Don't say you want everyone to follow the guidelines exactly, and then take shortcuts yourself because you're the "boss." Don't get angry with people for getting cliquey, but then go out to lunch with the same people three times a week.

Employees willpick up on your true character really quickly. Great managers need respect to operate, and respect must be earned.

Be Kind

What's the best example you can set? Kindness.

If your employee gets the flu, send him home, tell him to get the rest he needs, and divide up his workload. If an employee's cat dies, you may not understand why she's so upset, but keep your personal feelings to yourself and express sympathy for her loss. If your top performer starts to struggle, sit down with her and find out what you can do to help.

Don't mistake kindness for wimpiness. The two aren't related. You can still sit down with your troubled employee and say, "Jane, I noticed your work performance seems to be faltering, what's up?" After she tells you, discuss options, make a plan, and end with, "I am always here to help you and I need you to meet these new goals that we discussed."

Note the use of the word "and" where you probably expected a "but." A "but" tends to indicate that the two sides of the sentence aren't really compatible; the "and" shows that they are. You are there to help and Jane must meet her goals. As long as you are realistic, employees will perform better because they know precisely what is expected of them.

Photo: Shutterstock

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