The Gifts Leaders Give


This is the time of the year where we think about gifts. Whether it’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or Small Business Saturday, we are thinking about what we are giving to those who are closest to us. It’s also the time of year where we begin to reflect on the past year and plan for the next.

As you think back on the past year as a leader, what gifts did you give to the people who work for you? I’m not talking about physical gifts but the things you did that will leave a lasting impact on your employees. These actions, like physical gifts, can either be good or bad.

A study last year by Glassdoor found that 66% of employees believe their direct managers had an impact on their careers. 52% said the impact was positive while 20% said it was negative. The challenge as leaders is that, whether we like it or not, we are leaving a lasting legacy on the people who follow us.

When training to be a Naval Officer, I learned an important lesson on this that has always stayed with me. We were told to learn as much as we could from every leader we were assigned to. We should learn the good practices, to emulate in the future, and learn the bad practices, to avoid in our own leadership activities.

As I look back at all the leaders I have worked for, I can think of a number of good gifts and bad gifts that I have received. Some of the good gifts included:

The Gift of Trust – As a junior officer assigned to my first submarine, I had a commanding officer that regularly chose me for the toughest assignments. Even though I was filled with self-doubt, he told me he trusted me and that I would a good job. That trust gave me confidence.

The Gift of Appreciation – I once had a boss who sent a large basket of cookies and snacks to my home after he hired me. In it was a note that said, “I’m looking forward to all the great things I know you will do.” It was a simple gesture that said he appreciated me as a person even before I started work.

The Gift of Faith – The leader that selected me to run my first manufacturing plant chose me for the job, even though I had never run an operation before. His action told me that he had faith in my abilities and I worked hard to prove him right.

The Gift of Support – When I was going through a career transition, I had several former bosses who went out of their way to provide support and advice through the whole process. Their support during a stressful time was exactly what I needed to make a successful transition.

The Gift of Encouragement – As a young design engineer, I had a major failure of a new product at a test lab costing my company thousands of dollars. I had to call my boss to give him the bad news. Instead of a reprimand, he encouraged me to learn as much as I could about the failure, improve the product, and to get back to the lab.

The Gift of Recognition – I have had a number of bosses who have selected me to receive awards or have recognized me publicly for my actions. In most cases, it was a total surprise. Although I don’t work for the recognition, it is nice to get that type of positive feedback.

The Gift of a Challenge – I once had a boss challenge a business plan I developed. Even though I had created a solid plan, he asked one simple question which changed everything. He simply said, “This is great, but what haven’t you thought of that could create even more growth?” That challenge was the catalyst that changed our entire thinking and business model.

I won’t get into the details here but I have received many bad gifts as well. They include gifts of micromanagement, public reprimand, disengagement, discouragement, disrespect, disloyalty, and, like many others, I have been thrown under my share of buses.

So as we approach the end of the year and begin to reflect, I would challenge you to think of the gifts you have been giving. Have they been good gifts or bad gifts? What is the lasting legacy you are leaving for the people who work for you? What can you do differently in 2015 to give better gifts?

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