I recently attended the retirement party of a friend and former colleague, Mary Beth. Over 150 people turned out to bid her farewell. She had been running her department with a large team for over 17 years, mainly with the same management team, which speaks to her leadership skills.
How did she do that? Well from my observations, she consistently worked with integrity. She cared about her staff, the parents and children who came under her domain. She treated everyone with respect and valued other people’s opinions, even when they contradicted her own beliefs. And maybe most important of all, she had a great sense of humour and loved to have fun.
So as a leader or manager, how can you achieve this?
Take an interest in your team
One of her managers told me that she spent the first one-on-one meetings with her answering questions about herself, her family and her goals. She was surprised and had expected that they’d leap right into business and talk about the issues. Get to know the people who are working with you.
This is one that I observed myself. When one of the staff would have a challenge and come to her for help, instead of giving her an answer, she’d throw it back at the staff member and ask what she thought was the solution. What would she advise?
She didn’t make herself out to be the expert, the keeper of all solutions. Instead she encouraged her employee to think for herself and at the same time, conveyed that she was respected and her opinion valued.
It can be all too easy, especially in government, to take a silo approach to solving problems or getting a project off the ground. By that I mean that often departments get somewhat territorial about what falls under their domain, and so they don’t reach out and involve others, they hold the reigns of power and control tight.
My buddy, on the other hand, was always quick to invite others to the table, recognizing that there was strength in involving others and bringing in fresh perspectives. Early on she started a multi-disciplinary network that included many players from different sectors, and to this day, it works well, always putting the needs of children first.
Maybe it was because she worked with children, but there was always some party or gathering in the works, so that staff could come together and have fun. It was a chance to play and let go some of the stresses of the work.
And clearly she’d taught them well as the animated video her management team produced to say goodbye and pay tribute to her, was clever and funny as they poked fun at themselves. They were following her lead as she’d given them permission to play and laugh while on the job.
After an illustrious career spanning over 40 years, Mary Beth’s retirement is well earned. She has led the way and now the mantle has been handed over.
While her colleagues will miss her, I actually gain – because now she will have time for that breakfast we kept promising to have.
Now we get to play.