Safety Leader

Are You a Leader or A Manager? Motivating with empathy and understanding

The year 2020 has been challenging and more unusual than any other we have experienced and is one that will certainly stay with us for a long time. We’ve seen a worldwide pandemic affecting each one of us as well as the economy. Many businesses have closed, and unemployment is rising. How we work has changed significantly. Telework is the new norm and, while that is feasible for some, many of us can’t do it. It’s simply impossible for us to work from home on the many essential day-to-day activities that create the environment that we live in today.

As managers and leaders, we need to motivate our folks in the face of adversity. We must account for the fact that our people may be under stress from today’s issues and have been affected in ways that we are not privy to. While we should always have that mindset when dealing with our workforce, these days it’s even more important. Empathy and understanding can be our motivators. Sure, it may take a bit longer to get the job done, but the safety—both physical and emotional—of our workforce is key.

As electrical contractors in an essential industry, we don’t have the flexibility to put off things until the world gets better. We are part of making it “better.” How we react to the issues of the day will determine if we are successful. We need to ask ourselves a key question: While we possess the skills to be called a manager, do we have the skill to be a leader? It takes more than skill and expertise to be a leader.

To lead a crew or an organization, we must communicate effectively, outlining our goals and objectives for a particular project or vision. We need to explain the what, why and how of getting there to those who will be assisting in the objective.

Starting this dialogue helps the team trust in what we’re trying to accomplish. While this may sound simple, it is far from that. We need to look at ourselves and see just what kind of manager we have been. Have we been practicing these traits all along, or have we been the “old school,” command-­and-control manager? Too often, we fall into the latter category. This makes our job harder, because we have to convince ourselves that to reach a successful outcome, we need to change our style of managing and leading people. And we need to convince our subordinates that we are on the correct path.

Making that change doesn’t mean abandoning our principles and starting over. It simply means that we need to get the result by using a different method. Take, for example, a typical job order. Most of the time, we will meet with the crew before work begins, give them the directions and let them know what to look for in potential barriers to success. While that is an efficient and effective way to get the work completed, it does not allow for worker input.

Here is a different scenario: A job comes in that requires a pole change-out. You get the crew together and explain what needs to be done. Then, you solicit input from the crew about how to complete the job in the safest, quickest, most economical way. This allows the worker to have input into the job and also gives you the opportunity to see the workers beyond their typical skill set.

Ask crew members to plan the job out from start to finish, including all the potential hazards they may encounter along the way. Encourage them to work through any roadblocks they foresee and coach them about ways to mitigate those issues. By doing this, you establish a participatory­, rather than dictatorial, leadership style. Your crew will begin to understand the work from your perspective and gain a better appreciation for what you have to do in your role.

This is just one example of what we may face as we go forward in 2020 and beyond.

About the Author

Chuck Kelly

Kelly, president of Kelly Consulting & Mediation Services, has worked with utility industry leaders on safety, labor relations and human resources for more than 30 years. Reach him at 540-686-0118 or cklk3@yahoo.com.

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