What message are you sending to your team…?

Years ago, I worked as a contractor performing software testing, for a company I felt was pretty solid – and I respected the management decisions the majority of the time.

After about a year the company was purchased and, as expected, the acquiring company brought in their leaders and a series of “reorg’s” occurred which left the team in turmoil…since they were occurring about every other month for several quarters.

At one of the team meetings, with approximately 100 software test engineers in attendance, a new senior director put out word that…since they wanted to keep the talent they had, with decades of domain knowledge and industry experience – he was implementing a new policy to allow people to request transfer to different parts of the company, in order to try new things and increase their experience.

He stated that it was better to allow people to volunteer for exciting new projects and stay at the company, then have them lose heart and leave the company…and force time consuming hiring and training.

Therefore, several of us applied thinking it’d be pretty cool to learn new products and technology which would only enhance our careers at that company.

However; it didn’t take long for us to realize that this new policy was nonsense.

Our managers panicked over the possibility of losing people they relied upon…and word was fed back to the senior director that we weren’t ‘team players’.

Fast forward to the next team meeting; we asked the senior director about his new policy, and he replied that it wasn’t there for people to ‘leave managers we don’t like’, and he ended it.

I cannot tell you how severely that message impacted the engineers who thought they could trust the word of upper management.

Why am I sharing this story?

Because recently…a colleague I know and respect just went through a similar experience.

He was hired at a large, well known company where they openly requested employee feedback and suggestions for improvement, since they had so much knowledge and talent in their organization.

This colleague, who is one of the most reliable, dependable and productive engineers I know…took them up on their request and made a couple of suggestions based upon his previous (successful) projects.

This wasn’t a disgruntled employee, he didn’t push for things that didn’t make sense, he simply suggested ways to improve their processes for the benefit of his team, and the company as a whole.

They were very sensible suggestions and would’ve been a great benefit to management as well.

Care to guess the end result?

My colleague’s reward for having the courage to provide input and try to help the company who employed him, was to be added to the layoff roster and helped out the door.

This employer lost the contributions of a 20 year, highly educated, hardworking Engineer…due to short sighted management and their inability to embrace Free Input, that would benefit their team and make those managers look really smart in the process.

When I was 20 years old, I joined the Navy for the opportunity to leave the small town where I grew up, in order to ‘see the world’ and enjoy a grand adventure.

Along the way, I benefitted from mentors and leaders who showed me what Real Leadership is all about, starting with the best advice my Father (a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel who’d enlisted in the Army before WWII) ever gave me.

He told me that I’d soon be put in charge of men who would need me to be the best Leader I could be.

His words:

“Son, these men will rely upon you to lead by example and think of their needs first’. 

‘When you are given the privilege of being put ‘in charge’ just remember – they aren’t there to serve YOU, you are there to serve THEM!’.   ‘Your job is to make sure they have all the training, supplies and resources they need to do their jobs well – you work for them!’”

“Remember – your word is your bond, so they will only follow you if they trust you – ALWAYS keep your word!”

Boy was he right!  I was tested many times when I was first promoted and I remember what he told me.

Fortunately, I wasn’t alone.

There are Mentors and Leaders I looked up to in my working life (starting with my Dad and throughout my Navy and corporate management careers) and I owe them all a debt of gratitude.

So, when I think of what I experienced on that Contract years ago, and what my colleague recently endured, it reminded me of the importance of True Leadership and what it means to be The Boss.

Most importantly, I think of what my Dad told me…about my word being my bond…and I hope my colleague isn’t negatively impacted (over the long haul) by his latest experience, but instead, that he will keep this in mind as he moves up the ranks…as a lesson of what not to do.

I hope he remembers when he is The Boss one day, that if you’re a Leader your number one job is to train, motivate and support your team, including soliciting their input and learning from it…because their success is also your success.

It doesn’t work any other way.


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