Career Coach: Excerpts from a Nov. 9 chat

Joyce E.A. Russell chatted with readers online last week about leadership issues in the workplace. What follows are excerpts of that conversation. Joyce will be hosting another discussion online on Dec. 7. Read the full transcript here.

Relatively new leader

I’m a relatively new leader in my trade association, and one of the difficulties I’m having is getting my team — some of whom are quite experienced in our industry — to offer their own input and suggestions. I don’t know everything, and these are good and talented people. But I find they want to sit back and wait for me or others to describe the strategy, rather than offering their own thoughts. How can I combat this over-aggressive deference?

It is possible that they are used to seeing the previous leaders give all of their own thoughts or not use their thoughts. Thus, they may be used to not giving input. I do agree with you that it is critical for you to get their views since they have great previous experiences. Did you ever read the book “Death by Meeting” by Patrick Lencioni? It offers some very useful tips for running meetings, and it is very easy to read and practical. I think you would find it useful.

You also might consider having different people work in teams to be in charge of various parts of your meetings. They may be quiet at first, but if they see that you really are silent and waiting to hear their input, they will start to offer more ideas. Often leaders don’t do this — they jump in and criticize ideas so quickly that employees learn that it is not worth it to share their ideas.

Long hours

My experience has always been that my bosses tend to work much longer hours than most employees ... especially now, when companies are understaffed. My question is, am I doomed to 12- or 15-hour days if I want to hold a leadership position?

It does seem that many leaders work really long hours, but this is not always the case. It’s interesting that some leaders understand the importance of getting enough rest, spending time with family and leisure pursuits, etc. In fact, you will find that when looking at the “Best Companies for Parents” or those that [the American Society for Training & Development] rates as some of the top firms, that more of them are considering the importance of time off for their employees.

Leading without being overbearing

Hi, what advice do you have for someone who’s not particularly comfortable being a stereotypical manager, especially when it comes to micromanaging and “playing boss.” Are there ways to lead subtly without being overbearing, or is that a complete oxymoron?

You are referring to “legitimate or position” power which is effective at getting people to do things, but not nearly as effective as when they respect you and admire you (we call this being perceived to have “referent” power). There are lots of great resources on leadership out there — check out books by Kouzes and Posner such as “The Truth about Leadership” and “The Leadership Challenge.” Both are excellent and argue for exactly what you are saying.

What happens when you’re not a leader anymore?

My husband just retired after 25 years in the Army. He was relatively high up and had “the last word” much of the time. Now he is working for a civilian company in a related field. He went from being the go-to guy to being the low man on the totem pole. Any tips for how he can endure this transition?

It depends on his job. Maybe he needs to be in a consulting type career — and there are plenty of opportunities for this in our area. As a consultant, especially with the defense industry, his views would be taken into consideration in a much bigger way. I have also known some retired military to go back to school to get an [Executive MBA] to help to level the playing field in those jobs they have. Often this will give them more credibility in the civilian world. I personally think retired military have an enormous amount to offer and often undersell themselves. I think a career coach or someone to talk to him about his job and future prospects would be helpful.

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