The Trickle-Down Effect of Management vs Leadership

James Ryan

As I approached the barren check-out lines, I noticed that the only light that was on, was at check-out station number one. A man standing behind an alternate counter off to the side quickly noticed me as I stood there looking around, and told me that someone would be happy to help me exactly where I was standing. He then noticed that the cashier was missing from her loyal post, so he began to loudly shout out her name. When she instantly replied back, he abruptly instructed her to help me. My guess was that she was stocking some shelves or something. Whatever she was doing, she was definitely busy working. He, on the other hand, was not.

As she approached the check-out area, she immediately called out to me and apologized for not noticing as I stood there, but with her eyes diverted away from me, I could also sense that she was feeling strained by the entire event.

“It wouldn’t have killed him to help you himself,” she muttered.

I didn’t say anything in return, but I knew she was right. He easily could have.

“He thinks he’s the boss,” she added. “But thank God he isn’t.”

Clearly, this tiny woman who I would guess was anywhere in her late 60s to early 70s was feeling quite frustrated by the so-called “leadership” tactics of her colleague. And despite my initial reaction, which was that she shouldn’t have been complaining directly to a customer, I definitely empathized with her situation, mainly because I was also going through something similar at my own work. I wanted to tell her that. I wanted her to know that I understood how she was feeling. That she wasn’t alone. But I didn’t, and in hindsight, I wish I had.

All too often, people are placed in positions of authority, when quite frankly, they shouldn’t be. Not because they aren’t good people, but because they don’t understand the difference between management and leadership. They direct others with what they perceive to be a higher sense of personal clout, when in fact, they should be acting in a way that supports and encourages their employees, so that in turn, they can provide the best customer service possible. Today’s manager needs to be service-minded – not a dictator. Today’s manager needs to treat his or her employees in the exact same way that they would want their employees to treat the customers – with kindness, fairness, and friendliness.

Think about it – if you’ve ever worked in customer service, then you know how hard it is to be friendly and helpful when inside, you’re feeling stressed out, disrespected, and unappreciated. Why would you care about doing a good job for the company you work for when they don’t even have the decency to treat you with the respect that you deserve as an honest, hard-working employee?

Answer: You wouldn’t.

I also feel that a big problem with middle-management these days is with their need to feel like they should constantly control what everyone else is doing at every moment. This is the wrong approach. As a former football coach, I can tell you that I always trusted my best players to perform at the highest possible level without my having to control their every move. I would share ideas and encourage them, yes, but I rarely had to crack the whip. They were already motivated by virtue of their own character. They knew their jobs and I never felt like I needed to micro-manage them. If anything, I gave them the confidence to trust their own instincts by removing any fear that they might have about making mistakes. I did this by making my views on this subject matter quite clear – mistakes will always happen. Just learn from them and get better as a result.

Always lead by example. Action speaks louder than words. And managers should never make their employees feel that they are putting their own needs above the needs of the people who work for them. That sort of behaviour only inspires resentment and animosity.

In closing, I would also like to remind all of the “leaders” out there about the philosophy behind the One-Minute Manager principals – praise in public, discipline in private. Those six little words will help your employee retention rates more than you can imagine.

Bottom line: Do not embarrass your employees in front of their customers.

- JR

James Ryan
James Ryan


Leave a Reply