| Sep 16, 2021

How To Be a Person, Not Just an Executive

Creating a balance between being a fallible human and an authoritative executive can be tricky, but it's worth the effort. Letting employees see and interact with you as a person while showing them the same respect benefits everyone.

In some ways, executives learn to be stern and unrelenting on their way up through the ranks. But it is possible — and beneficial — to show that you are human while maintaining authority. If you create this balance, you can improve productivity and job satisfaction.

You Are Not More Important Than Your Staff

I am a CEO, not an emperor. There is no rule that says being a CEO dictates how you must present yourself to your team. Being a leader does not make anyone more important than anyone else, it is simply about using advanced expertise to help your team make efficient and effective decisions together. There is authority that comes with the role that makes you important, but not “more” important in terms of being respected as a human being.

One of the illusions about leaders is that they are perfect and always make good decisions. I think it’s important to be myself rather than presenting some version of me I wish I was, but am not.

I’m willing to share what I’m challenged by, and how I am learning every day, just like I expect my employees to do. You don’t have to be everyone’s best buddy, but you can banter and socialize at company events so that people can learn who you are as a person instead of forming an impression of you through others. It’s a good place to learn about your team, their enthusiasm for their work, as well as their passions outside of work. I see company gatherings as a place to find commonalities with employees, as well as opportunities to learn more about the members of my team.

How Leadership/Employee Camaraderie Looks

  • Great leaders avoid pulling rank on the people they work with. This is divisive and unnecessary. If you have authority, you don’t have to keep announcing it. 
  • An effective manager doesn’t make everyone bend around her schedule or keep them waiting for her responses.
  • It is important to remind everyone of your open-door policy. Invite and welcome team members at any level to connect with you.
  • Effective leaders don’t confuse rapport with friendship. Mutual respect and courtesy at work should not imply a deeper connection. If the executive doesn’t draw clear and uniform personal boundaries, there could be unnecessary tension or drama in the work environment. When other employees observe their peers having a tighter bond with the boss, it can spark resentment, competition, or jealousy within the team. 
  • Don’t turn camaraderie into prying. Not everyone appreciates having a senior leader chatting them up or asking about personal preferences and experiences. It can come across as judgemental and lead to misunderstandings.

Maintain Your Authority While Welcoming Input From Employees

The purpose of employee input is to find the best solutions, but you are the decision-maker. Sometimes, the input can be great for a project but out of line with company values. For example, a suggested gathering to support one movement or cause over another could cause the company to lose customers.

There is a fine art to letting people know their input is welcome but that you will determine the final course of action. A best practice is to tell your staff that you welcome their input on a decision you are weighing. This is a natural, open-minded way of acknowledging that you are collaborating, not delegating. You ask employees to inform your decision, not to make it themselves.

Employees can accept a decision they disagree with if you convey the pragmatic reasons for it instead of appealing to emotion. Getting visibly angry, frustrated, or fearful can indicate that an executive is being driven by impulse instead of careful consideration. No one wants an executive barking orders instead of making announcements, so be mindful that your decisions need to be communicated clearly and fairly, and show that any employee input was properly considered and factored in.

We’re All Human

So, why make all this effort to be human at work? The short answer is because you are human. And your employees are not robots. The practical reason is that today’s workers are very mobile. People leave bad bosses more often than they leave bad jobs, and replacing employees is one of the greatest expenses for a company.

You can’t show that you are human by memorizing techniques. The process involves some trial and error, and emotional intelligence. It is a balancing act between authority and camaraderie. Only you can find that balance, based on your instincts, learning, and desire to be the best you can be.

By Lauren Boyer
Executive Author

CEO, Underscore Marketing

Lauren Boyer, CEO of Underscore Marketing, provides expert growth & strategic support to global health and wellness innovators. view profile

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