Mama Bear

While grabbing lattes and bagels with several of my coworkers, I overheard these statements:

    “We need to be on the same team. She has to back us up.”

    “Does she even know my name?”

    “I can’t believe she threw us under the bus like that.”

    “She “shhhed” us in front of the VP of the company.”

This is not a happy morning conversation. In fact, it was an exasperated, frantic conversation about our new manager.

For the past two years, I have had the absolute pleasure of working under an amazing department head. She was a mama bear. She looked out for her team, and went to battle for us on a regular basis. She was a hard worker, who truly led by example. She knew when to delegate, she knew when she needed to take charge, she knew who to defend and when to let things go. She was opinionated, but also listened to her team’s ideas. She genuinely loved every single person who worked under her. On their birthdays she would bring them a bouquet of their favorite flowers, buy them a cake in their favorite flower, and spoil them with a beauty product of her choosing (moisturizers, self tanners, etc.).  She would reprimand you if she didn’t think you were pulling your weight or if you could do better, but she would also yell at her superiors if she believed they were wronging one of her team members. As a department, we knew she had our back.

Recently the department changed management, and the energy of my entire team has shifted (as is evident in their morning chat). Our new manager is meek and timid. She bows down to whatever the upper management says, and completely kisses up to the CEO and President of the company. She hardly knows the team’s names, never mind their intellects, abilities, or potential. She is often late to work, is frequently misinformed, and lacks the proper knowledge to execute daily tasks well. In the two months she has been our department manager, three people have quit. Out of a team of eight. Nearly half of our staff has left, because they “can’t handle her” or “it isn’t worth the stress with her in charge.” This breaks my heart that in a major corporation there can be such insufficient leadership. But I guess it happens all the time-people get promoted based on popularity or time with a company or connections, not necessarily because of their leadership potential. 

So I found myself asking, what sets our old manager apart from our new manager? What makes a great leader?

She only leads when necessary. She does not always have to be in charge, rather she knows when she is the expert or when she should let someone else take the reigns. She allows her team to work independently, and only speaks up when necessary.

She speaks up. When the time is right, she should not be ashamed of her opinions, ideas or beliefs. She cannot be afraid to be wrong, and she cannot be timid in discussion. She must be willing to defend herself, to fight for her team, and to negotiate. She must be willing to stand up for what is right, even in the face of adversity.

She is a good listener. In order to negotiate and lead her team effectively, she must listen to their wants, needs, and thoughts. She must be an active, engaging listener who is not merely entering into a conversation out of obligation. 

She knows her team. Because she is a willing an able listener, she will truly know those with whom she works. She should know their strengths and their weaknesses. This will allow her to delegate appropriately, but also to help grow and nurture those under her management. By knowing her team intimately, she will be able to push them to their potential, which will improve the overall strength of the project. Appointing the right people for certain jobs and roles is half the battle to success.

She is accountable for her actions and those of her team. She gives credit to those worthy of it, and takes the blame personally when something failed. A great leader knows that failure is absolutely necessary and all part of the process. She will not hide from “mistakes” or wrong turns, she will accept responsibility and learn for the future.

She thinks outside the box. She is a problem solver. She is imaginative and creative. She must be a forward thinker. She must redefine what is, so that she can find new solutions. Someone who knows true leadership is about pushing past what has worked in the past into unchartered territories-only then can she discover the bigger and better opportunities that lie before her and her team.

She trusts her intuition. She is unafraid of the unknown. She learns from the past, and follows her “gut” knowing that she can trust herself and her decisions.

She is positive and inspirational. She believes that anything is possible, both for herself and for her team members. She encourages and affirms others. She pushes people to be the best version of themselves. She focuses on the successes and the triumphs, and truly believes in her team.

Many of these leadership characteristics are inherit, others are learned, and still others can be cultivated through intentional decision making. I don’t think a great leader has to buy birthday gifts for her team (although that is exceedingly kind) as our old department manager did, but I do think she must put others before herself. I think leadership starts with adopting the above characteristics and embracing a bit of a mama bear mentality

Until next time,