The Leadership Teeter Totter – Perception Deception

As leaders in the events industry we have all had our leadership style analyzed, our strengths and weaknesses identified, and have taken a barrage of courses on how to work with different generations, cultures, and to deal with diversity in the workplace.

In today’s world, Leadership is no easy task. Most of us would like to hear our leadership style described in terms such as “tough but fair”, “flexible but consistent”, and for some we want to be seen as a role model or even a mentor. We also genuinely want to have a great relationship with our staff and team members. But have you ever found yourself, despite your best efforts, surprised or even astonished by the reaction or outcome of a conversation or meeting you have had with a team member? Or surprised to hear that a decision, policy or guideline that you implemented did not receive the rave reviews you were certain would be the case? Sometimes as Event Leaders we suffer from perception deception. Meaning how we perceive our own leadership is not necessarily how our team or co-workers perceive us or our leadership style.

We have all worked 80-hour- weeks, 18- hour- days without a single meal break and several weeks straight without a day off… it’s what we do and we love it. We work long hard hours dedicated to making each event a huge success for our company or organization and for our stakeholders. It can be challenging to lead a team through the development and execution of an event without becoming your own worst enemy.  As event leaders we sometimes make some common missteps that are very common in our “work hard, play hard” industry. Keeping the leadership teeter totter in its fine balance can be as easy as refining and making a few adjustments to our leadership style or a bit more difficult in that we have to recondition old habits and be more self-aware of our own behaviours and how they impact our co-workers and team.

Step back!

Think empowerment. You have handpicked your team, ensured they have the best possible training, exposed them to industry education and events to further their growth and development as event professionals… so why aren’t you stepping back and letting them do their jobs? Whether it is about your own need to be in control of every fine detail or that you are oblivious to the fact that you are a micro-manager it doesn’t matter. Stepping back and letting your staff ____ will help them achieve their full potential and enhance their satisfaction with the work they have been hired to do or the position they fill with your company or organization.

Stop hovering!

The cousin to the micro manager is helicopter manager. Sometimes when we are working on a high pressure deadline, a crazily complex event with lots of protocol or programming layers, or simply a huge workload, some of us tend to helicopter manage. When we helicopter manage, we hover. We hover and become invested in our staff’s feelings instead of checking-in occasionally to see how they are coping.  This kind of behavior, when overdone, can backfire.  As leaders we may feel that our hovering is demonstrating a “get-down-into-the-trenches kind of attitude” and empathy for their stress levels and workload, but it can also be perceived as lack of confidence in your team’s ability and skill set.  Reduce hovering without real cause. Instead acknowledge tight deadline (s), large workloads in scheduled meetings or structured conversations.  Let them know you are available and that your door is always open should they need some support.

Don’t be Wishy Washy

This is about managing expectations with clear and concise communications.  Often times an undercurrent of dissatisfaction or disappointment can start to swell within a team or organization if there is a lack of clarity or mixed messages being received around some common things such as: lieu time, overtime accrual, vacation planning, start and finish times, coffee-breaks, cell phone usage, working weekends, and even things such as staff travel.  This is where the old saying “practice what you preach” is going to be most effective and impactful.  You make think that making decisions on the fly to send someone home early that has worked a long day or allowing someone to come in late after a long shift, may demonstrate your flexibility as a leader it can have a negative impact on your leadership.  You will find yourself making more and more decisions in the gray zone and eventually there may be a lack of clarity around expectations.

Instead role model expected behaviours.  Be on time for meetings, put your personal phone away in the office, discuss your planned vacation with your team. Present or consult with your team around how you will be managing lieu time and rewarding long hours.  Most of all you need to be clear and consistent with these guidelines.  Let your staff know that expectations to any guidelines can be reviewed on a case by case basis and that you are aware that there may be some gray areas.  When we lead only in the gray zone we risk being wishy washy and that will definitely throw off your balance as a leader. 

Keeping the leadership teeter-totter in its fine balance is a quest and as long as we communicate clearly our co-workers and team will stand with us during challenging times.  Even if only subconsciously, we all work for the KUDOS that comes after an event goes off perfectly or a client rewards us with their repeat business. But sometimes our notion of work hard, play hard is different from organization to organization, leader to leader and can be interpreted differently from leader to staff.  With empowerment, the right amount of empathy and most of all clarity in our leadership style we should be able to avoid a nasty bump that comes when the teeter-totter drops!

Heidi Hughes

Director, Sales & Marketing, Anvil Centre | President Elect, MPI BC Chapter

A 20-year hospitality sales and marketing professional, Heidi honed her skills working for some of the best hotels chains in the world, including Hyatt Regency, Marriott and Hilton. After almost a decade in conference and convention hotels, she spent several years as Manager, Events and Conference at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) before coming to Anvil Centre as Director, Sales and Marketing. Energetic and positive, her career has evolved from hospitality management, sales and marketing to include event management. Her devotion to being a contributing member of a growing and evolving industry that is continuously setting new and higher standards for best practices is echoed in her extra- curricular work and activities. Heidi is a former Instructor at both the British Columbia Institute of Technology and the Art Institute of Vancouver and is highly active with Meeting Professionals International on both a local chapter and International Level. 

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