Leaders, Remember Where You Came From and How You Got Here

By Barbara Jordan

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

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An organization I work with experienced tremendous, rapid business growth. Along with the typical “growing pains,” employees were overextended because programs were understaffed. Therefore, I stepped in to help front-line staff.

Now, realize this: it had been years since I was “in the trenches.” So you can imagine my surprise. Wow, was that an eye-opening experience!

The most painful part of it was struggling with the record-keeping and paperwork. But, of course, as any great leader handles difficult times, I asked myself what I could learn from the experience.

What Can You Learn From Doing Your Employees’ Work?

  • Your employees’ challenges and obstacles.
  • Empathy, period. Nothing more needs to be said here.
  • How long it actually takes to do their tasks?
  • Whether employees have the necessary tools, resources, time, money, equipment, and/or technology.
  • Their strengths, solutions, talents, and suggestions for completing tasks more efficiently and effectively.
  • What can be improved in terms of procedures, policies, systems, and processes? How can we improve the tools we have? Can we access better resources/equipment/technology to make our work more efficient? Can we utilize time more effectively? Can we streamline the work somehow? Can we eliminate duplication or rework? Can it be simplified?
  • Simply put: Humility. Nothing makes you more humble than having to ask your employees to remind you what you’ve forgotten. (Just how do I do what I’ve been asking you to do all along?!) I haven’t been that vulnerable in a long time.

What I Discovered

In the process of muddling through all that complicated paperwork, I discovered why our employees are burning out. I came to realize why reports are incomplete, late, or inaccurate.

I began to understand how difficult it is to manage time when we don’t give people enough time for paperwork. And I could see why our turnover rate is high. With these discoveries came a lot of empathy, care, and concern for my employees.

The older I get and the longer I serve as a leader, the more I recall the patience and caring attitude my early leaders showed me. They saw potential in me.

They worked on developing that potential into who I am today – a firm but fair and compassionate leader who can make quick decisions, manage tasks, and simultaneously build and maintain positive working relationships.

Giving Back

A leader once helped you with your professional development. Once you become a leader, it’s time to give back and help someone with theirs. This is what it means to remember where you came from and how you got here.

Take the Time

Another sign of forgetting one’s roots? Leaders who prematurely give up on understanding their employees. They fail to ask the right questions, neglect to listen, and judge. But, in order to be effective leaders, we have to take the time to listen and demonstrate interest, care, and nonjudgmental concern regarding our employees’ work.

Few of us became leaders overnight. It took years of practice and mixed success to develop into who we are today. The leaders who took us under their wings didn’t always begin with discipline.

They took the time to explain, coach, and educate us. We must do the same. I want my employees to succeed and not fail, don’t you? Many of them will succeed if they know we care.

Leaders who remember where they came from are not only fair and caring. They also know each of their employees and pay attention to how they complete their projects.

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

If there is one piece of advice, I would give you as current or future leaders: take the time to get to know your employees’ work—good and bad, strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures.

“Walking a mile in their shoes” pays huge dividends. It may mean that you have to work some long days. However, the day isn’t over until you’ve understood and met your employees’ needs.

Invest the same kind of time many have already invested in you. Where you are now certainly is important to appreciate. But do not forget how you got there.

Do You Remember Where You’ve Come From?

If you have ideas about remembering where you came from that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Barbara Jordan
Barbara Jordan
Barbara is an author, speaker, and leadership coach. Sign up to receive the ezine “Success Tips for Busy Leaders” or sign up to receive a free sample chapter of Achieve Success In Spite of Stress. Connect with her via Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
  • I really like this message. It is so easy for leaders to get completely detached from the realities of their employees. Many organizations suffer from this lack of connection.

  • Barbara Jordan says:

    Thanks Kirk for your comment. It is in fact very important that we remain connected to our employees’ work, their successes, their challenges, their feelings, and their experiences.

  • Ana María says:

    Dear Barbara, thank you very much I am 100% identified with your reflection, and feel very proud because this is my leadership style, different from others that believe that leaders role is just to ask for results. I had around 40 people working with me, in 17 different countries, so it was not easy to be all the time with all of them. I was the boss but at the same time their advisor and friend, not to do their job but if necessary available to give a hand or to put my shoulder… Thank you very much again.

  • Barbara Jordan says:

    Thanks Ana. I’m happy to see that there are others who identify with the style of leadership described her. You cannot always be there to oversee your employees work. But, if you demonstrate humility, empathy, and servant leadership, you can establish and (hopefully maintain) a positive working relationship. This allows you to trust them to get the job done.


    Excellent observation and experiment. Most of the leaders forget their existence in the organization and enforce time limits on the staff. This in turn leads to delay, mistakes and ineffective performance. Experiencing their tasks and problems will help any leader in leading his/ her employees to satisfactory completion of the tasks.

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