Want to be a Leader? Start with Your Junk Drawer and a Mirror
May 28, 2017
When managers ask me for help expressing the need to “lead their teams,” they are often people who I would not follow myself. This is the third post of mine in the series, and the next step to taking charge of a department or company. The advice I have to offer is deceptively simple but game-changing:
Come to work when the office is closed, open your desk junk-drawer, and then decide if you are worth following. (Prepare to get dirty, and bring cleaning supplies.)
I mean it. If you want to be a leader and have people follow you into the business fray, start with the place you chuck stuff when no one is looking. Is the drawer neat and orderly? Or did you just find fossilized gum and company tickets to a ball game from three years ago? Dump out the contents and deal with everything it contained: trash, action, or file in its proper place.
Hopefully that was not too difficult, now repeat with all your drawers and files until they are so clean you would be proud to show them to your competitor. Move on to your real desktop – is it organized and current? Or does it look like a bomb exploded? What person would willingly listen to you if your own work station looks out of control? While you are at it, have a little fun at this next task and ask yourself if your office/cubicle is stylish and appealing to walk into? When you call employees in for a serious discussion of their work performance, are they distracted by anything? The overused saying of “lead by example” extends to what you can and cannot see. (Once while shopping in a department store for makeup, a sales-woman with very thin, chemically fried hair suggested that I try the hair product she uses. – No thank you.) Does your wall need art? Are your family photos framed and current? Your work-space should say something about your personality, but not offend anyone. (I still laugh about walking into an accountant’s office that had an unflattering nude painting of his wife on the wall. –No thank you.) The area should be reflective of your good taste, or fake it and hang up a painting of the ocean.
Now that you have cleaned up your area, look in the mirror (and in your closet). Are your clothes, hair, and general presentation right for the image you want to project? (See my blog for tips on this.)
Having fun yet? Great! There are two more areas to examine to make sure that you are leader-worthy, and trust me, they are extremely important. First, how is your virtual life? Clean up and update your Facebook, Linked In, and Instagram. Google your name and see what comes up- others do it – so make sure you are well represented. Your email inbox should also be short (or empty); with files to keep anything you save.
Once your virtual life is clean, remember to take care of your personal life too! I am not going to delve too deeply here, just know that your personal life is likely an open secret to your employees. Do not over-share with them, but if you are having troubles at home (and we all do from time to time) they usually can sense it. Managers who regularly work hung-over, grumpy, crying, or simply work insane hours to avoid facing their lives are not in a position to be leading, they are in a position to manage and try to cope day-to-day.
Undoubtedly this is not the information a lot of people want to hear. I am hired to help companies work more efficiently, and often managers think that is a mandate to improve how employees function. While this is important and can change behavior for a time, advising managers to lead with clear vision is the key to long-lasting, effective growth for any organization. Would YOU follow YOU? That is the question.