What does it really mean to say that our resistant leaders ‘don’t know what they don’t know’? Well, let’s take a look. Someone is the top performer at their job and the management sees their performance. The management team decides to reward this excellent work with a promotion. So now, they are in their new job and the expectation is that they will continue to be the top performers. Guess what? The management is surprised when the newly promoted manager flounders and struggles with leading people. ‘How come? They were so good at their previous job’. So let’s examine this issue.

First, let us define a resistant leader. Resistant leaders are individuals who do not understand their own worth and the true value of being a leader. John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less”. What does influence and resistance have to do with each other? Resistant leaders do not recognize that they have influence. They do not know what it truly means to be a leader. What is the situation surrounding a resistant leader? They are floundering, struggling to get people to work, uncertain what boundaries to set, and wonder ‘how do I handle all this responsibility?’. Some of them hide behind their boss and never use their own voice. Others use positional power, meaning they are the boss, “so do as I tell you”. Still others work so hard to not cross anyone, to not make anyone mad, or to not assign jobs that workers perceive as the worst job in the company. Why? Because, then they are afraid being unfair or playing favorites. The signs of resistance are all there. They do not realize there is a different way to get people to do their jobs or that they can create a supportive atmosphere where people want to come to work. The only way they know to lead is from past experiences or from working under their own respective bosses or previous bosses. They don’t know what they don’t know.

They don’t know their gifts and strengths. How can I make such a statement? I have conducted an activity with over 300 people, and I am always surprised at the outcomes. It is a simple exercise that involves two different steps. In the first step I ask people to list their own strengths and gifts. The second step is to ask the others in the group to list each other’s strengths and gifts. It is amazing to me to see the looks of wonder and surprise when they read what their coworkers have said about them. Many do not believe what they are reading and still others ask for an example or a situation. They seem embarrassed and cannot genuinely believe the words and phrases written about them. The light bulb begins to come on about their gifts and strengths when I ask about their hobbies, their interests and what they like to do when they are not working. I also ask for a description of their regular duties and responsibilities at work. With one supervisor who juggled the production line between the rush orders and the regularly scheduled orders, I asked if she liked to put puzzles together. Her answer was a resounding, “yes, I love working puzzles!”. When we connected that skill set with what the supervisor did at work, her gift and strength became very apparent. The Light Bulb! So, we talk about their strengths, their gifts, and the things they enjoy. We connect the dots to see exactly where it all fits in their work lives.

They don’t know that those very strengths and gifts will aid them in leading people. The recognition of our gifts and strengths tells us the areas where we need help. Too often leaders will not admit that they do not do something well. That would signify a weakness when in reality, it is just not in their wheelhouse. For newly promoted managers or old school managers to admit they are not all-knowing seems to be a loss of control. They do not understand the value of their gifts and strengths. When we know our value, our gifts, and our strengths, we are in a better place to understand the value of others. I learned this leadership lesson in the restaurant world when I did not value my gifts and in turn, I did not value the gifts my staff brought to the table. I do not like to create dishes out of random ingredients, and we needed new specials each month. For quite a while, I resisted turning this job over to my assistant who was amazing at it. Why? I thought I had to be good at everything and I also was uneasy at admitting I did not like, nor did I want to create those new specials. A trusted mentor pointed this out to me. Another light bulb! When the managers, supervisors and leads realize the connection between their gifts and strengths versus their teams’ gifts and strengths, the amazing process of changing the way they lead begins.

They don’t know that by adding value to their team, they influence the team. So what is influence? Henry Overstreet says that “The very essence of all power to influence lies in getting the other person to participate”. So how do middle managers influence their team to participate in the work of the company? They intentionally seek to learn something more about their team and in doing so, they will influence each person to be a more valued member of the team. To help middle managers learn this concept, we create a ‘homework’ assignment for them. Each one is to create the list of people on their team, their direct reports. The assignment is to answer these questions about each of their team members, and if they do not know the answer, they need to ask!

  • What are their hobbies?
  • What is important to them?
  • What specifically do they do well?
  • What are the challenges?

For the most part the managers already know the good, the bad and the ugly. But this is different. These questions open a conversation, one that has personal meaning. These conversations communicate that the manager has a true interest in each person and wants to know what is important to them. With this simple task of asking questions, most managers, supervisors, and leads are surprised at how much better the team works together. Why does this happen? Because the manager cared enough to learn more about each person. Influencing others begins with adding value to others and building relationships, which in turn invites others to do the same.

Many managers, supervisors, and leads do not know, nor do they understand why they are having difficulty in their position. So, we start our work right at the beginning, in searching out the question of ‘who are you?’. In the words from Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning, the beginning is a very good place to start.” Our team has found that we must find, discern, and address what it is that middle management does not know. It gives us the beginning point. We meet individuals right where they are in life. By using their life experiences, we find that they are open to learning leadership skills. These skills will aid them in leading themselves, in leading their team and therefore, influencing the culture of their company.

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