by Tim Walker

I have been in the workplace for over 25 years. I have had good bosses, okay bosses and a handful of horrible ones.

I had one boss who was a chain smoker. She would only be in the office for about an hour or two during the entire workday because she took smoke breaks every 10-15 minutes. And the breaks would last about 30-45 minutes each.

Some have taught me by example of how to lead, others have taught me by example how NOT to lead.

I’ve had bosses who would offer praise freely, others who preferred the “home on the range” method—where seldom is heard an encouraging word.

I’ve been a follower, and I’ve also had opportunities to lead. Sometimes I’ve done it well, and other times I’ve made a horrible mess. I’ve had to deal with things that gave me great empathy for previous bosses because I realized that what seemed so clear cut from the “employee” side, actually was very complicated and messy from the “boss” side. And I’ve also had situations where I see that sometimes a boss just made a wrong choice. It happens.

Now I have a confession—I hate leadership and business books. I think they are extremely boring. I’ve tried to read them, but I can never get past the first chapter. But from my observations and experience over the years, there are a few “tips” I would like to give people who lead. Things that made a lasting impression on me when I saw a leader do them.

There are no big secrets on here, and this list is certainly not exhaustive. But there are a few things that I believe are important to do, but often overlooked by those in leadership.

  • Praise others publicly. It’s one thing to tell someone they’ve done a great job, but it’s another to let everyone know what a great job they’ve done. It’s the equivalent of sending a woman flowers at her work so that everyone can see how much she is admired and appreciated. People need to know what other people have done well, and your employees need to know that you are proud of them. So, send an email, bring up that successful launch or project at the meeting. Build up those who are following you.
  • Clean the dishes in the sink. Load the dishwasher. Don’t be that guy who leaves things for others to clean up because you are too busy. Just because you’re a leader doesn’t mean it’s someone else’s job to clean up your coffee cup or plate. It’s your plate, your responsibility. Clean up your own messes.
  • Admit when you’re wrong. You’re not always going to handle things in the best way. You’re not always going to make the right decision. I know sometimes, because of workplace policies and issues, you have to be careful about this one, so use wisdom. But keep in mind that when you are in leadership, you are modeling what that looks like for others who may someday lead. And they need to know that leadership doesn’t mean you always make the best decision. Sometimes, you’ll lead people into dead-ends, or take the long way to get somewhere. Don’t just shrug it off. Let people see you learn from those mistakes, and even let them help you be a better leader by offering input into what you could have done differently.
  • Don’t lift everything yourself. In other words, the weight of responsibility should be on your shoulders because you are leading, but you don’t have to lift alone. You have others to help you do it. That’s what they are there for. They’ve either volunteered or been hired to do it. Let them do their jobs in a way that brings out the best of who they are while completing the task well. People higher up than you notice someone who leads a team well just as much as they notice someone who has a lot of successes. Share the workload and the credit.
  • Lift something. This one may sound contradictory to the previous point, but it goes along with the tip about cleaning up your own mess. It’s important for the people you work with to see you working alongside them. I had a boss who would load the van every time I had to go represent our workplace at a convention. It made me want to represent the company well because I felt like we were in this together. Your job may not involve loading trucks, but as a boss, you can refill a copier or printer tray with paper. Or replace the water bottle in the water cooler. Whatever it is, work alongside people instead of simply giving orders and watching them scurry around.

I didn’t get these from a business or leadership book. I got these tips by seeing them in the men and women whom I’ve had the privilege of following. And the reality is that many of these tips were modeled by Jesus. They involve a leadership style that is based on serving others, putting others first. Instead of fearfully grabbing the glory and power as a leader so that others will notice you and promote you, it’s about trusting God for your future at work, and about investing in one of the things He loves the most—people.

What are some big and small ways that you can serve others as a leader?

Tim Walker is a husband, father of three boys, editor, writer, superhero—well, you get the idea. More of Tim’s words can be found here. ©2011 Tim Walker. All rights reserved. Used with permission.