In our first Corner Office article, Cyndy Trivella, Events Manager with TalentCulture, spoke with CEO, Doug Coull. In this second installment, she sat down with Jim Fields, VP of Customer Experience Marketing at SAP to talk about leadership and the future workplace. As in keeping with the theme, this interview will highlight the perspective and experience of someone who has made the move to the “corner office.”

Cyndy: I, recently, had the great pleasure of interviewing Jim Fields at SAP. Jim is a serial entrepreneur, a very innovative thinker and someone who believes settling for the status quo is one of the biggest downfalls any company can make. So Jim, as a forward thinking executive and someone who believes that great leaders are critical to business success, what advice can you offer to first-time leaders?

Jim: It’s funny that you ask me this question now. A colleague who recently became a people manager for the first time just asked me, this week, what she should do to be a good manager. Here’s the advice I gave her:

First, always be yourself and don’t try to act a certain way just because now you’re “the boss.” Be your authentic self. That’s what got you here in the first place. Second, understand the difference between being a manager and a leader. People endure managers, they follow leaders. Managers assign work, leaders inspire it. Be a leader. Third, make sure your team knows that you will not ask them to do something you, yourself, wouldn’t do. Find opportunities to work alongside them, versus just directing them. Be a player/coach. Fourth, stay connected by doing regular team meetings/calls (weekly or biweekly) and one-on-ones with your direct reports (biweekly). My fifth bit of advice was, don’t be afraid to have the hard conversations when necessary. If someone is having performance problems, you owe it to them and the rest of the team to deal with it rather than ignoring it, as so many managers do. A team knows when one of their peers is underperforming and will consider you a weak leader if you don’t address it. Lastly, recognize and celebrate great performance, and make sure that your team’s successes are seen as theirs, not yours. I always tell my team that if your fingerprints are on something, your name doesn’t have to be, because people will know whose work it is.

Cyndy: That is great advice. You really stressed the importance of being approachable, reasonable, accessible, and setting the stage for how her behavior and actions are going to shape the behaviors and actions of her direct reports. Jim, you have a reputation for being a great mentor with sound advice for people coming up in the ranks, but how should leadership as a whole, mentor up-and-coming generations?

Jim: Let’s turn that question on its head. I’m a big believer in what some people call reverse-mentoring. That’s where an early talent (don’t call them young!) partners with a more seasoned leader to expose them to the world of the up-and-coming generation. For example, some of our new hires, at SAP, who are just out of school have worked with our executives to help them update their LinkedIn profiles, to start blogging and tweeting, and to understand the pervasiveness of mobile technology and social networks among the emerging workforce. Engaging in this type of reverse mentoring can really change a senior leader’s view of how their less-experienced employees actually think and work and will help them understand how they might need to adapt their own leadership styles as a result. It also gives the early talent employees access to, and visibility with, senior executives.

Cyndy: I love this answer! It reminds me of the saying, “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” This is when the pretenses stop and we just communicate with each other rather than putting up the “us versus them” walls and by doing so, create a two-way learning opportunity for both the early talent and seasoned professional. So keeping on the topic of generations, do you believe there are generational differences in the workplace, or is this a perception cooked up by the media and others?

Jim: I think that people of any generation can and should be innovators and agents of change. Conversely, they can also choose to be complacent and resistant to change. Your age or experience level is not a determinant of which category you fall into. It’s more about attitude and motivation. In fact if you talk to a “millennial” worker, they will tell you that they are tired of being labeled as such. What is different across the generations is that recent entrants into the workforce are what might be called digital natives. They never lived in a world without the internet, smartphones, social networks, etc., so their expectation of how work gets done, how people communicate, and the level of connectedness is different from prior generations, and is in fact changing the nature of work for all of us.

Cyndy: I totally agree. Staying current and business-ready has nothing to do with age. It’s how you manage your own sense of motivation to stay in the game. Jim, I’m going to go out on a limb and say, you believe leaders can, often times, be their own worst enemy. So how do they rise above this stigma?

Jim: Leaders need to provide their teams with the air cover and support they need to do their jobs successfully. The worst thing a leader can do is pass the pain on to their teams. Leadership means sometimes saying, “No” to or reshaping the requests that come from other leaders, so as to protect your team. Other times, it means that if things go wrong, you take the hit on behalf of your team instead of passing down the blame.

Cyndy: Sage and, if so chosen, quite doable by the leader. Jim, thank you for speaking with me. It was fun to dive into these topics and I’m sure our readership appreciates the advice and direction you’ve shared.

Jim: Thank you. I love to talk about these topics and share what advice I have.

Be sure to look for our next article, coming soon, from The TalentCulture Corner Office.
Photo Credit: sara_moseley via Compfight cc

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