In the early 90’s, I landed an internship at a progressive non-profit agency in New York City that served as an incubator to musicians, performance artists and multi disciplinary artists. I both loved and hated my experiences there. It was where I was first introduced to Adobe Photoshop, where I learned about the National Endowment for the Arts and their grant programs and it was where I worked side by side with a talented crew of musicians. It was rumored that Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson utilized the studio for some of their experimental work. Although I never bumped into them in the hallway, it was fun to think that they were crafting their art in the same space as the rest of us.
During my tenure as an intern, I learned how NOT to run a non-profit agency. I often speak about how that experience was just as valuable as when I was lucky enough to spend time with exquisite professionals who helped mentor me and shape my leadership style.
The agency was a hot mess! The organization’s director spent eons looking for paperwork because he had not established an efficient filing system and there was little to no structure for the day-to-day business activities. More than once the staff had to skip getting paychecks because the director had not yet gotten a handle on cash flow. For that entire semester, there was only one formal staff meeting and while the director was out of the office, the staff members incessantly complained about all the inefficiencies. Their urge to help right the ship had vanished long before I arrived there.
25 years fast-forward and as a consultant I am once again revisiting this same type of experience. On a regular basis, while participating in work groups and on interdisciplinary teams, I continue to be exposed to professionals who exhibit leadership methods and approaches that are ineffective and down right disempowering to the rest of the members of the team.
More than once, I have had “note to self” moments where I have gasped at the freshmen leadership missteps of professionals who are ten and fifteen years my senior. Unfortunately, leadership tenure does not equal leadership quality and basic empowerment and collaborative techniques that should come naturally to leaders with thirty+ years of experience have been nonexistent.
In an article published on the careerealism.com website, Writer Elizabeth Dexter-Wilson poignantly identifies eight bad leadership behaviors that often destroy an organization. Number one is failing to listen to those you lead and number two is failing to embrace the talent on your team. These top two behaviors are so critical to me. It’s frustrating when I work with a leader who violates listening practices, but what I have found to be even more wearisome is watching my talented coworkers and colleagues suffer under the same circumstances.
So now, when I get into my car and drive away from an ineffective work meeting, I make a conscious effort to acknowledge my feelings of being devalued and not heard, converting the energy to empathy, never to repeat these bad behaviors in the future when my chance to lead again arrives. I pledge to really embrace and acknowledge the value of each and every person on the team, to listen, and to model effective behaviors for the next generations on HOW to DO it, instead of how NOT to do it!