Why Is Being An Effective Employee So Difficult?


Remember that business course you took on how to be an effective employee? No? Because it doesn’t exist!  Let’s face it, one of the most challenging aspects of working in a business is working in a business. Whether you’re an employee right now (which includes managers, directors, and most C-level positions), or you’ve been an employee in the past, were you properly guided to succeed? Were you mentored on how to adhere to the standards of your business culture and bring your innovation and unique perspective forward?

The Achilles’ heel of being an employee:  Authority Issues.

The bottom-line is that we all have authority issues. Every single one of us. I’ve never met a human being that doesn’t. The workspace is the perfect place to play-out our authority issues as most organizations have a strategic hierarchy of differing levels of management, and thus authority. And the recent business trend to do away with hierarchy all together usually has the most unconscious and under-the-table authority issues because they pretend everyone is a peer when that’s never the case when you have ownership and employees. Thus people get mixed messages inside the business culture where it seems like everyone is the same when there will always be differing levels of responsibility and risk.

The more honest and effective approach, in my opinion, is to get right with your spot on the organizational chart and truly inhabit your position so that your superiors will have no choice but to promote you. I’ve had my own challenges in the past of making peace with my position, cubicle, and authority and the more I fought reality before making peace with it, the more volatile my own trajectory was on the org chart. Another way to say this, is that the more I relax into my self-authority and not need to prove my value, the less I need to combat my projections of outside authority. Becoming an effective employee always starts with the relationship between you and you. No one else.

Real Mentoring

The other side of the employee divide is the fact that most company cultures don’t put enough attention on mentoring their employees. It is often assumed that by handing out a job description or by attending a one-day orientation, that an employee is good to go. Right?  No!

Real mentoring includes setting context for an employee, so that the content of their job makes sense. This is achieved through creating position agreements, and clarifying the  results, tasks, and standards with which you want them to perform.

Mentoring doesn’t happen through documents alone

The other key ingredient of mentoring is literally mentoring your employees. It means taking the time to work 1-1 and go over standards, reporting structures, project management, feedback loops, company values and culture, and other guidelines that are crucial to the business’s performance. Otherwise, your company culture and brand will suffer.

If the definition of leadership is to cultivate other leaders, what are you doing to forward your employee’s careers today? How can that happen if you don’t make the time? Human beings learn in relationship, and position agreements and documents alone won’t mentor your employees.

Depending on the size of your company, it may not be realistic or best for time management to mentor all of your employees directly, so how can you create your company culture where every director or manager is trained on how to mentor their reporting employees, so that everyone has a touch-point to grow inside of the business. Are you mentoring your mentors on how to do this? Are development meetings part of your company culture?

What are some of your biggest challenges in being an employee or mentoring one? What are you doing to close the divide?