You're #1.

You're #1.

In hospitality and in all customer-centered businesses we seek to hire people who are intrinsically other-centered. Empathetic, compassionate and thoughtful people (ECT’s for short) are just the type of folks we want on our teams; we need people with these characteristics to take care of our clients and customers. These traits are also essential in managing others; we need empathetic, compassionate and thoughtful leaders guiding our employees and helping them reach their potential.

In my work as an executive coach there is a common theme when these ECT’s make the transition to management. They are so other-centered that they put themselves and the needs of the business second to the needs of the employees. Instead of trusting their opinions and making smart decisions on behalf of the business, they get distracted by people-pleasing. The skill that once was so valuable in customer service actually becomes a hindrance in leading others.

I worked with one client who was a classic ECT. In our first session Anne (not her real name) shared that she had been a successful manager at another operation but at her current job she was was feeling less confident and successful than before. In order to connect with the existing staff she felt compelled to please her team which employed her familiar and strong ECT skills.

What her bosses observed was a manager who cared about everyone but didn’t demonstrate confidence and didn’t take charge. Because she deferred to everyone else this gave the impression of being a pushover. When we discussed this she felt stuck: how could she possibly demonstrate more confidence when every day she felt disempowered and demoralized? On the surface, using her skills was an attempt at creating comfort in her role. But because she felt compelled to consider everyone’s needs she was quickly becoming exhausted. And she had become so demoralized that she was considering resigning despite the fact that she generally liked and excelled in her job.

I asked her one simple question: who comes first? She shrugged. I posed the question again: who comes first? She looked down, and then back at me. “I come first” she said tentatively. I asked her to say it again so she could get comfortable with this concept. “I come first” became her new mantra.

We discussed ways for her to put herself #1 at work. Not in a domineering or aggressive way. Not “my way or the highway.” Rather, we discussed ways for her to acknowledge and prioritize her thoughts and opinions about the business before the individual needs of others. We determined that she needed to claim some space in the shared office for herself (putting up a bulletin board where she could post reminders and mementos for herself), create some stock answers for when she was too busy to attend to another person on the team (“I’d love to help you with that, I can give you 15 minutes at 3:00”) and develop a new approach to walking into work that would establish her in a managerial role (take a walk through the operation greeting the team and asking for updates).

These actions helped Anne to remind herself not to kowtow to everyone else and to honor her time and needs while on the job. This helped her create and demonstrate confidence in her role. And once she was able to take care of her needs then she was able to trust her instincts and stand up for what she thought was correct for the business and the situation at hand. Her confidence in her abilities and her decisions created trust with her reports and this was duly noted by her bosses.

Are you an ECT person? If so make sure you are considering yourself before you take on the needs of others at work or in life. As we’re reminded on every flight we take: “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” It is essential to set yourself up for success first before you lead and guide those around you and on your team. Remember: you’re #1.

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