Early in my career, I heard a consultant say that department heads create organizations in their own image. It sounded sacrilegious to me, but the point is clear. An organization takes on the characteristics of its leaders. Then I thought about all my jobs and bosses.
I started out with two paper routes when I was 12 years old. I was an entrepreneur, delivering papers and collecting the subscription money. At 16 I worked at a tree farm for $1 an hour. After finishing high school, I got a summer job at a steel mill to earn money for college expenses. The expectations were low. All I did was sweep floors and move 50-pound sprockets from one side of a room to the other and then move them back. I worked so hard and so fast that I was assigned to a piece-rate job where I could contribute more directly to the company’s mission.
There is one thing all those work experiences have in common: low or no close supervision.
I am a self-starter with a strong work ethic. The work experiences during my formative years established the foundation of my leadership style. As a leader, I supervised people the way I wanted to be supervised. I let them know what had to be done, gave them the tools and training to get it done, yet encouraged them to ask for help if needed. I encouraged lateral communication and mission- driven collaboration as well.
Even though it was a hands-off approach, the expectations were high. It stimulated critical thinking, allowed everyone to know his/her contribution to success while discouraging finger pointing when setbacks occurred. As a team, we analyzed setbacks and learned from them.
I refined this leadership style under a boss-mentor turned friend. I am not sure how to label this style of leadership, but it worked for us. At the end of the day the people who worked with me have become successful. They’ve supervised wonderful people and accomplished great things. If that is what it means to create others in one’s image, I’ll take it. From the top down, relationships work for those who work on them.