Leadership 1: An Art Which Can Be Learned

Together we can launch a revolution in leadership – creating an environment in which your team works at a relaxed, sustainable pace and in the process accomplishes more than they could have imagined.

People will spend 1/3 of their life at work, 90,000 hours over the course of a lifetime, and 80% of people say they hate their job.  What kind of madness is this that we spend 1/3 of our life in an environment we hate?  And how much of our weekend time are we wasting worrying about Monday morning rolling around and having to return to a job that does not use our talents, or to a job which could be good but is being ruined by a boss we despise?  We must put a stop to this.

My goal in writing this guide to leadership is to give someone who is interested in being a better leader  a vision of what their team could look like and how that team will function.  In addition, what are the concrete steps to get you and your team to optimize their potential? This audience includes people with years of experience who want to improve, or someone who has recently been promoted into their first role as supervisor.  And let’s not forget anyone with no supervisor  title but who wants to help their team succeed in spite of an absence of leadership. 

We are trained on how to do the tasks at work, but when we are promoted we are not taught on how to be a positive leader as we supervise the people doing those tasks and all too often we end up imitating the bad bosses we have had.

If you have had a bad boss who demeaned you, wasted your time and your talents, made your stomach knot just thinking about going back to work on Monday, the best revenge is to become the leader you always wish they had been. 

I learned many of these lessons the hard way, getting kicked around by people who should never have been put in a position of power over other human beings.  They soured years of my life and I will never forgive them for that, but I want to end that workplace tyranny here and now.  You can be the leader that starts a revolution in leadership by dedicating yourself to helping your team members grow and succeed, by being a leader that puts the welfare of your team before any particular task, a leader that is willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of the team.  When you lead like that, you will change the lives of your team members, you will model for them how to be a true leader, and step by step, person by person, heart by heart, we will change the workplace, and then we will change the world. 

So what’s it going to be?  Are you going to be one of those bad bosses who sees a leadership position as a way of making themselves look good, looking out only for themselves, or a true leader who helps people recognize their unique gifts and puts them on a trajectory for greatness?  If you are happy being a power-hungry boss, stop reading, kiss my rear end, and I hope you get what is coming to you.  And don’t forget karma:

Credit: The Yummi Yogini

If you want to be a leader who builds loyalty with your team members that will last for the rest of their lives, follow me. It is your choice, let’s get started, we have to start building you as a real leader, the clock is ticking.

And remember, there is good karma too!

Credit: QuotesGram

Leadership 1: Introduction

When you take care of your team, make them feel safe, respect them, and give them the time and resources they need, they will do everything in their power to accomplish the mission and make the team a success.

An All-Star Team: Ericka, Kristine, Cynthia, Nicole, Karen, and Angela.  This group would use every ounce of energy and creativity to make the team a success.

In this two minute video Simon Sinek describes on how the environment the leader creates can completely change how a team member functions at work.

So how do you create a nurturing environment? Over the next few weeks I will be posting short explanations of each element of team building.

In post #2, I will discuss how those we lead can teach us how to be a better leader, and a summary of each of the upcoming posts.

#3: How do nice people who are outstanding workers become bad bosses?

#4: Why are there so many incompetent people at work, and how can you avoid becoming one of them?

#5: Leadership is a sacred trust. Those you lead are entrusting you with years of their life. If you are not going to value their time and try to provide an enriching experience to those on your team, don’t accept a leadership role, stick with what you are good at.

#6: Always put the interests of your team ahead of your own personal interest.  Leadership Rule #1: It’s NOT about you!

#7: Putting your team first.  Leadership Rule #2: It’s ALL about you!

#8: The most important skill a leader uses is listening.  There are four situations in which a leader listens: 1. Answering questions which are seeking information to help the team do their work.  2. Listening to a team member seeking support or understanding. 3. Inviting a team member to speak to you when you detect an unspoken question or plea for help.  4. How the leader listens in a group, this will be treated separately.

#9: Making leadership listening part of your daily routine. A “how to guide” on listening in a way that supports your team members and helps them find solutions to their problems.

#10: Leaders speak last: how a leader should listen in a group.

#11: Making your team members feel safe and calm.  It starts on Day 1.

#12: Maintaining a calm work environment, the importance of creating a circle of safety around your team.

#13: “Houston, we have a problem.”  The difference between a situation, an emergency, an urgency, and a crisis.  A crisis requires a leader to restore calm to an environment where there is none.

#14. Building trust within the team.  “If people like you, they will listen to you.  If people trust you, they will follow you anywhere.”

#15. A leader must create a space where people feel respected as people. A leader builds respect by taking the welfare of their team members more seriously than any particular task.

#16. A leader must show respect for each team member’s skills.

#17. A leader must create a space where team members have the time to accomplish their tasks. The goal must be the creation of an environment in which your team works at a relaxed, sustainable pace with as many blocks of uninterrupted time as possible.

After reading that list you must be thinking, that’s just common sense.

And you are right, but there is precious little common sense in most work places today.

Leadership #1: Introduction

Most people have quit a job because of a bad boss.

What is the reason most people are unhappy at work?  57% of people report having quit a job because of how they were treated by the boss. 

Percent of employees who leave their jobs because of their manager Credit: Cision PR Newswire

I have quit jobs twice to escape bad bosses, and it was a relief to walk out the door because those bosses had disrespected my time, denigrated my skills, and treated me like dirt.  These bosses were people who should never have been put in charge of supervising other living beings.  Over 51 years I have worked under 17 supervisors.  Three of them were inspiring leaders, six of them were nice people and excellent managers, two were just skating but I didn’t mind them because they never were a nuisance to me, and five were terrible bosses who constantly treated people in a way that was unacceptable, and when I informed them of that, they told me to my face they didn’t care – they were the boss, and if I didn’t like it I could quit.  They were quite proud of how they snapped the whip and controlled people.  

Quitting with flair

Let’s get our terms straight:  

1. A Supervisor: any person who is responsible for overseeing the activities of one or more people in the workplace.  Some are bosses, some are leaders, and some are managers.  Managers are supervisors who are skilled at the job their team is doing, that is why they were promoted to a supervisor’s position in the first place.  They know how to do the work, but since they don’t know how to influence people, their focus is on getting the job done, “whatever it takes” and they are not particularly interested in the team members as people. At best they are a benign presence in the office, a useful robot to answer questions, at worst they are a bad boss.

2. A Bad Boss: Someone who has the reverse Midas touch, they can take what should be a perfect job and turn it into a nightmare.

3. A Leader: A person who can take a disorganized group of underachievers and turn them into a successful team that revels in accomplishing more than they could have imagined. 

Examples, please.

Bad Boss: The bad boss will direct others from a position of power which creates a negative work environment. “It’s my way or the highway, if you don’t like it, quit.  There are people lined up at the door waiting to take your job.”  A bad boss focuses only on getting the mission accomplished and does not care how much the team members must suffer to do that.

Credit: Memecenter.com

Leader: A real leader can create order out of chaos and build a team of people who like working together. They direct the team with the team members’ permission which creates a positive work environment. “We are all in this together, and I will do everything in my power to help each of you team members to succeed in work and in life.”  A leader focuses on making the team feel safe and respected, knowing that if they create a nurturing environment, the team members will, in turn, move heaven and earth to accomplish the mission.  There is no such thing as a “bad leader.”  If you are a bad supervisor, you are not a leader, you are a bad boss.  But even bad bosses can become leaders. Well some of them.

A leader does not need a title.

Throughout this discussion you will notice that I mention people who I have had on my team who had no title or official supervisor’s role, but were team leaders.  What they did was to look out for the person on the right of them, and the person on the left of them and make sure that if any of those people needed help, they got it.  This is readily apparent in a situation where a team is struggling under a bad boss. The leader can be identified as the person to whom the team members look for guidance when things start to fall apart.

“Bosses command; leaders influence.”

“Bosses discipline; leaders mentor.”

“Bosses delegate tasks; leaders delegate authority.”

It is inexcusable for a bad boss to ruin your life.

Some jobs are just always going to brutal and hard: slaughterhouse workers, coal miners, construction jobs in the heat of the summer and cold of the winter, or crime scene cleanup crew.  But what is the excuse for an office job to be a nightmare?  Almost universally the worst aspects of a bad office job can be traced back to the behavior of a bad boss.  I have been in charge of two social justice offices where the stakes were high. Clients included domestic violence survivors, and people seeking political asylum because their lives had been threatened in their home country. Before I became a supervisor, I paid my way through college and law school as a fire fighter where I fought desperately, often unsuccessful, to keep people alive. That job taught me what stress in the workplace really is, and those experiences also taught me that most workplaces should not be stressful.

How to change our dysfunctional work culture

We have 130,000,000 people going home from work unfulfilled. You and I can change this tomorrow. It doesn’t require money, it doesn’t require anything physical other than your head and your heart to understand the profound significance you have on people’s lives every day. We can change this world if we understand the great joy of leadership, and the grave responsibility of leadership, to look at those people under our care and help them have a successful life, one of significance, where they can share their gifts, be appreciated for doing so, and go home to whatever their family situation is, with the sense that they matter. We need to move from a ‘me-centric culture’ to a ‘we-centric culture.”

Robert Chapman, chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller Companies, Inc

Calmness in work and life is most important to me.

During my time in the fire department I developed Post Traumatic Stress triggered by the death of children I was unable to save.  For 14 years I had panic attacks, hallucinations, nightmares, and was often driven to the edge of the abyss by thoughts of suicide.  I barely held on by running long distances to exhaust myself so I could sleep, and I have meditated for 48 years and over those decades I learned to be calm, and how to calmly lead and inspire my team.  Even once I was calm, I still had bosses that treated me so poorly that I would stress to the point where my stomach would cramp just thinking about having to go to work.  These living demons kept me staring at the ceiling at midnight, just roiling with worry.  It was a terrible waste of huge blocks of my life. 

Let’s work together so you can be the type of leader you always wanted to have, the leader who inspires their team, and creates the calm environment which allows them to accomplish more than they thought they possible.  It is not easy to be a great leader, it takes work and attention, but it is well worth it because it can change people’s lives.


One of my best interns was a law student named Zehra.  She had a sharp legal mind and such incredible charisma that people were naturally drawn to her as a leader.  A year after she worked with me she had another internship with an organization that had an outstanding reputation for helping people.  But Zehra had a negative experience there because they failed to draw on her skill in working with other people, instead they had her working alone and without necessary supervision.  During this time we exchanged the following texts.

“Mr. Bob, I am sad because I think I already had the best boss I will ever have.”

“Greetings Zehra, thank you for the compliment, but you are missing the point.  I modeled good leadership for you so that you will be a better leader than I am.  And, in turn, you will model leadership for those with whom you work so that they are better leaders than you are.  And over time, we will create a revolution of excellent leadership in the workplace.”

The best leaders want to help their team members excel, they are in it FOR THE TEAM MEMBERS, not for themselves.  They don’t want to be in the spotlight, they want to shine the spotlight on their team.

My first role model for how to be a good leader

Many supervisors don’t seem to have a clue about how to be a good leader, even though all of us older folks were introduced to a model of great leadership every Thanksgiving starting in 1956.

My model of a great leader is a young woman from Kansas who traveled to Oz to find the Wizard.

Dorothy as a model leader:

Credit: Warnerbros fandom wiki

She is a kindhearted visionary who saw the potential in her team members.

She weaves together a team of:
Insecure     Needy   Desperate Misfits 

She builds a caring community based on self-esteem & mutual support.

She motivates them to set out into the unknown in search of what will make them whole.

Credit: Evening Standard

Her leadership produces:

Authentic relationships

Compassionate interactions

Willingness to make sacrifices

Her belief in them helps them recognize their unique gifts with the result that each member finds they already possess what they sought.

So that’s it, when in doubt, just think WWDD?

What Would Dorothy Do?

Next Up: Leadership #2 will discuss how those we lead can teach us how to be a better leader, and a summary of each of the upcoming posts.

Published by Robert Lang

Social Justice lawyer and mentor, nurturing calmness, kindness, and adventure. Just trying to leave something good behind.

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