As a public sector employee for over fifteen years, I’ve attended seminars and workshops on a variety of subjects and logged in to webinars to learn from others in online classrooms. With rare exceptions, I always come away with a valuable lesson, idea or new perspective. However, a few of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned over the years have come NOT come from formal training. They have come from my own workplace and experience–namely, from community members, staff, co-workers and supervisors who “told it to me straight” even when it was uncomfortable to do so.
Here are five valuable lessons I learned outside of the training room:
1. FOR GOODNESS SAKE, LET YOUR HAIR DOWN ONCE IN AWHILE!
A staff member of mine asked me to “let my hair down” because he felt my hyper-formality was intimidating staff and inhibiting open communication. His feedback caused me to be more self-aware, integrate my sense of humor into the workplace and reminded me to admit my mistakes and failures (and share what I learned from them) in order to break down that “veneer of perfection.”
2. IF YOU’RE TOO BUSY FOR YOUR STAFF, YOU’RE TOO BUSY.
My boss taught me this after I complained to her about how frustrated I was that I couldn’t “do my work” because a few of my staff were having interpersonal problems and I had to help them iron things out. She looked me straight in the eyes from across her desk and said, “This IS your work and nothing is more important.”
3. PERCEPTION IS REALITY, EVEN WHEN IT ISN’T. CHANGE PERCEPTION – CHANGE REALITY.
It’s frustrating when someone in a position of power perceives a program or staff member in a way that isn’t accurate. However, their perception is their reality even if it doesn’t match mine or others. To change their perception, I can’t just complain and insist they have it wrong. I learned to share stories and create opportunities for them to engage with the program or person in ways which changed their perception and ultimately, their reality. I also tried to see things from their perspective and learn how the inaccurate perception came to be in order to find the keys to unlocking a new, unified reality. Why is this important? Because poor or inaccurate perception by management can negatively affect the support and resources you receive and it’s also a drain on employee morale.
4. YOU ARE ALWAYS INTERVIEWING. YES, EVEN NOW…AND NOW.
This is an easy thing to forget, especially early in your career. Every interaction, even the one in the elevator on a Friday at 5:05 p.m. is an interview. When you think you aren’t being watched or heard, you are. You’re developing your reputation, which arrives inside the interview room long before you do.
5. TO “ASSUME” REALLY DOES MAKE AN *SS OUT OF YOU & ME.
I assumed what I heard about an employee was true. The information came from someone who worked with them closely, so I confronted the employee in a way that conveyed, “You’re guilty!” without first asking for their side of the story. Once I heard their side of it, I ended up with egg on my face. This happened several times with different employees (enough to make an omelet!) before I learned to give others the benefit of the doubt, seek first to understand, and not believe everything I hear.
Some people would call these lessons “a-ha” moments, but for me, they are more like, “Oh-sorry” moments – in other words, my failure brought them on! I am thankful for these lessons and the “teachers” who shared them with me. While I certainly haven’t mastered them all, they’ve stuck with me through the years and helped me be a better leader.
What “outside the classroom” lessons have you learned that help you be more successful?
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