One of the best leaders I ever worked for had a unique ability that is rarely found.
When you worked for Jeff, you always walked away optimistic about your job. You never heard any of the negativity, politics, or dysfunction of the organization because he never allowed it to enter into the equation of the job we all needed to accomplish.
His ability was to be a buffer despite a negative culture.
We all knew of the issues our company had, both locally and nationally. In spite of this, he was able to get us to understand our role and keep a professional perspective throughout the week.
We worked hard for Jeff, because we believed in him more than our upper leadership or the company as a whole. He helped us make things better in the work we did, and never let us get discouraged or sidetracked in our work.
Jeff’s example shows how you also can be a buffer in a dysfunctional workplace:
- Always focus on optimism – never negativity. Jeff never let anyone know or feel that things were far from perfect. Instead, he made us look at what was working, and what things were improving. It wasn’t lying, but rather a choice to make the culture dwell on the good rather than the bad. Jeff was never down either. He was always upbeat, and wouldn’t let himself show frustration or discouragement in anything that challenged him.
- Always demonstrate professionalism – never talk ill about people or the company. We had a few challenges with both the upper leadership and the clientele we served. Many times those two entities clashed so hard it threatened to impact our attitudes. Jeff never allowed an ill word to come from his mouth – he always found the best way to talk about someone. When he had to address an individual’s flaws, he did so respectfully and in a way to highlight what their expectations for us were and how we could meet those.
- Value others. Jeff always made us feel like we contributed to the solution rather than working for the problem. In every meeting, every phone call, and every interaction he made us feel connected to the resolution and that we could help enact cultural change in our sphere of influence. He knew that people who felt valued would work harder and more purposefully in spite of the circumstances around them.
- Fight the battles behind the scenes. Jeff did not stick his head in the sand about the organizational challenges. Instead, he used his intellect and diplomacy to confront these head on. We always knew he was going to bat for what was right, and he never promoted himself in what he did. We just knew that he was working hard in the system to make things better.
- Focus on the things you can change. In order for us to not get swallowed up in the negative culture, Jeff helped us to focus on our job and make improvements on the things we could impact. He didn’t want us to get wrapped up on the side issues swirling above, but kept us lasered in on making our brand stronger and our effectiveness broader.
Jeff’s ability to be a buffer and not allow “things” to roll downhill is a tremendous example for us all. By having broad shoulders and not allowing obstacles to hinder your staff, you can create an effective “mini-culture” that will allow your team to stand tall in the most challenging climates.
Be a buffer. Move your people forward by creating something positive in the midst of something challenging.
More From Paul LaRue
Paul LaRue is the creator of The UPwards Leader and Instigator for Lead Change Group. His background in senior leadership, strategic planning, culture change, and people and organizational development gives him unique insight into the workings of successful organizations. Paul has given speeches and training sessions for many public and private entities and stresses the virtue of a culture that centers around core values and character in leadership.