Communication Is the Heart of Leadership

Jerry Schuber came to the City of Fresno from Waste Management Inc. where he worked from the ground floor up to the operations manager in the Sunnyvale SMaRT Station. Jerry joined the solid waste family in December 2000 as the safety and training specialist. Within a short period of time he was promoted to supervisor and eventually promoted over to code enforcement as a housing program supervisor.

Recently, a staff member was discussing a problem with me that was affecting morale and moreover productivity.  As I listened to the issues being laid out before me I was also listening to the issues not being said. Once they had completed their tirade and given me the emotional side of the conflict, I asked a simple question.  So what’s your part in the conflict? Invariably the answer always comes back to some version of “I am the victim.” Now do not get me wrong there are many times when a manager is not a leader. They lack the social graces, compassion, and emotional intelligence to work a problem through without stepping on the easily offended.  Managing and leading are two very different things.  

I often say to my students we manage stuff and lead people.  If you are not careful you can manage to find yourself with no staff to lead.  However, leaders are not always the person in charge of the unit or even the organization itself.  Sitting down and saying well I am not in charge so I just don’t care hurts the entire organization but mostly just the employee who does it.  They are not fulfilled, their work loses its meaning, and eventually, they burn out (in some cases at work AND at home since they take the stress to their loved ones every night.)


I often say to my students we manage stuff and lead people.  If you are not careful you can manage to find yourself with no staff to lead.
Therefore, this particular problem being shared with me was a perceived slight where the employee was not treated the exact same as another.  They were hurt so everything and every experience with this person was an insult to the injury. We ultimately got to the place where the core of the problem was discussed but only after dragging it out of them.  The trick is not fixing the problem as much as it is empowering the employee to lead from the chair they are in. They left my office with a new perspective, maybe even a new mission, to help them grow.  

 Sometimes leadership is done through rallying the fellow workers to accomplish a goal and in other cases; it can simply be taking the high road when you are unhappy with someone or something you are exposed to.  Explaining to someone their role as a leader in the organization can be very difficult. It’s a paradigm shift to say to a person, who may be holding the least seniority position in your organization; you are a leader if you choose to be.  They are always of the opinion they cannot possibly be the leader since they are not “in charge.” But true leadership doesn’t come from just being in charge, it is forged. Like iron, it can be made to be very strong or brittle. The same iron that can be used to build a bridge or a skyscraper can be cast into a pot metal, which can be broken with a hammer.  It is the forging process that gives it its strength, just like us. Good leaders take away from mistakes a lesson which can help them become better. Great leaders are paying attention to those they lead so they can avoid mistakes others have made and use their missteps to guide them.          


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