The Importance of Being an Active Leader versus a Behind-the-Scenes Leader


“A leader knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

~ John Maxwell ~

While it may sound elementary, a leader – by definition – must lead. And a leader cannot lead from behind the scenes. While every organization needs people who work in the shadows, these individuals are the “supporting cast.” However, an effective leader must be front and center, taking an active role in the vision of the company and the growth and success of its employees.

The Result of Hiding Behind the Scenes

According to a recent Towers Watson Global Workforce Study, 26 percent of employees consider themselves totally “disengaged,” 17 percent feel “detached,” and 22 percent classify themselves as “unsupported.” These views, whether real or perceived, reveal that many employees are not happy campers when they are at work. And, over a period of time, demotivated employees will not sustain high performance and productivity levels. Active leadership is the only way to combat these problems and turn the tide of employee disenchantment.

Employee Interaction

Active leadership paints a persuasive vision of the company’s future that excites workers and encourages them to be an important part of it. This includes allowing employees to offer constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement. Neil Giarratana, author of CEO Priorities, warns against “managing by exception,” or being a reactive leader who only engages workers when there is a problem. Employees need regular interactions with their leaders.

Active leaders also understand the importance of being genuinely concerned about their employees. They don’t treat their workers as a means to an end, but as valuable individuals who are responsible for the success of the company.

Information Sharing 

Active leadership also involves open and honest communication. Keeping workers in the dark is a sure-fire way to promote detachment and disengagement. In their book, Management Reset, authors Edward Lawler III and Christopher Worley write that a failure to communicate with employees about the direction of the company is one of the most common mistakes that leaders make.

Sometimes, there is hesitation to share bad news or to reveal plans that are not completely worked out. However, employees respect honesty and appreciate being “in the loop” during the company’s strategizing or preliminary phases.

Also, active leaders don’t sit in their office all day waiting for status reports. They are out and about, conversing with the people on the ground and in the trenches. This is the only way to obtain an accurate picture of what is happening in the company.

Employee Empowerment

 As Gary Hamel succinctly put it, “Leaders serve rather than preside.”

Hamel, author of What Matters Now, stresses the importance of providing workers with the tools that they need to be successful. Active leaders provide an environment that encourages and motivates employees to do their best work. These leaders work to remove any obstacles. This may range from providing additional training when needed, to purchasing software or equipment that makes the job less tedious and time-consuming. It may also include non-tangibles, such as ensuring that workers have a work-life balance.

Terri Williams is a freelance writer who focuses on a wide variety of topics for a range of websites including


Talkback: Do you find yourself sinking into becoming less of an active leader? What tips from above do you plan on using to take a more active leadership role? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

My Manager Yells at Me:
4 Ways to Deal with a Bad Boss

Angry Boss

“Accomplishing the impossible means only that the boss will add it to your regular duties.”

~ Doug Larson ~

David Asks:  I have a manager who is always getting on everyone’s case over everything. He has even yelled at employees in front of customers. How do I deal with this situation, other than trying to stay out of his way?

Joel Answers:  There is a wide variety in leadership styles between different bosses or even companies, but it is never appropriate for a manager to publicly humiliate an employee. It’s hard to enjoy your work when you’re worried about setting your boss off on a rampage. Here are some things you can do to improve your situation at work:

  1. Build relationships with other managers within the company. Start preparing for a lateral—or even vertical—move within the company. Work on making yourself well-known outside of your department so that you will be more likely to be considered when a position opens up elsewhere in the company.
  2. Remember that your boss is human. If your boss’s recent behavior is uncharacteristic of how he normally acts, consider the possibility that he may be going through something personally that is beyond his capability to deal with at the moment. Try to be understanding and express empathy in a nonthreatening way. For example, you might say, “You seem a little stressed out today. Is there anything I can do to help?”
  3. Stand up for yourself calmly but firmly. Just because your boss is a jerk doesn’t mean you have to let him get away with inappropriate behavior. If you feel you have been wrongly reprimanded, calmly but firmly explain why you acted the way you did.
  4. Report your boss. Complaining about your boss’s bad behavior to human resources is always an option, but tread carefully. It could make your life at the company more difficult. However, even if it does, your complaint will go on record and make it easier for the next person who has the courage to speak up.

If the situation doesn’t improve and you are unable to transfer to another department, you may want to consider looking for employment elsewhere. Remaining in a hostile work environment with a bad boss adds stress to your life that can detract from your overall happiness and fulfillment, not just with your career, but in other areas as well. You can eliminate that stress by finding a more satisfying position.

Are you struggling to get ahead at work? Garfinkle Executive Coaching can help you develop strong executive presence, get the attention you deserve for your work, and get the promotion you’ve always dreamed of.

Talkback: Have you ever had a bad experience with a boss? Tell us about it in the comments! Or ask a question you’d like Joel to answer in a future column.


5 Qualities that Make a Good Team Player Great


“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

~ Michael Jordan ~

Strong team players are the backbone of any team. When others fail, these are the people who venture on with strong resolve and persistence, committed to getting the job done. Most people can list the qualities of bad team members without struggling too hard, but do you know what qualities great team players share?

Here are five qualities that make a good team player great:

  1. Always reliable. A great team player is constantly reliable day in and day out, not just some of the time. You can count on them to get the job done, meet deadlines, keep their word and provide consistent quality work.  With excellent performance, organization and follow-through on tasks they develop positive work relationships with team members and keep the team on track.
  2. Communicates with confidence. Good team players might silently get the work done but shy away from speaking up and speaking often. Great team players communicate their ideas honestly and clearly and respect the views and opinions of others on the team.  Clear, effective communication done constructively and respectfully is the key to getting heard.
  3. Does more than asked. While getting the work done and doing your fair share is expected of good team players, great team players know that taking risks, stepping outside their comfort zones, and coming up with creative ideas is what it’ll take to get ahead. Taking on more responsibilities and extra initiative sets them apart from others on the team.
  4. Adapts quickly and easily. Great team players don’t passively sit on the sideline and see change happen; they adapt to changing situations and often drive positive change themselves.  They don’t get stressed or complain but are flexible in finding their feet in whatever is thrown their way.
  5. Displays genuine commitment. Good team players are happy to work 9-5 and receive their paycheck at the end of the month. Great team players take the time to make positive work relationships with other team members a priority and display a genuine passion and commitment toward their team. They come to work with the commitment of giving it 110% and expect others on the team to do the same.

To be a great team player, you don’t have to be extroverted or indulge in self-promotion. In fact, great team players sport all kinds of personalities. You just need to be an active participant and do more than your job title states. Put the team’s objectives above yours and take the initiative to get things done without waiting to be asked. In return you will build positive perception, gain more visibility, and develop influential connections to get ahead in your career.

Want to learn more ways to build positive work relationships with members of your team? Click here to read more articles on teamwork


Grow Your Influence by Building Positive Relationships at Work

Shaking Hands
“The quality of your life is the quality of your relationships.”

~ Anthony Robbins ~

Alan was a department manager several years ago at a software engineering firm in southern California. His company was growing, and he had high hopes for his career. He boasted impeccable technical skills, felt like he had invested part of himself in his company, and was confident in his authority.

Nevertheless, Alan felt trapped. He harbored ambitions of climbing the corporate ladder but didn’t know where to begin. Eventually, he enlisted the help of an executive coach and realized that he needed to learn how to communicate more effectively at work. His problem was that team members followed his directions, but few people actually listened to him, and he rarely listened to them.

With the help of his coach, Alan put together a plan to increase his influence by focusing on building positive relationships at work. Here’s a summary of what he did:

  • Started asking questions. By expressing an interest in the people around him, Alan forced them take notice of him. He also communicated his interest in them and their work.
  • Shared his expertise freely with others. Alan looked for opportunities to help people who could benefit from his technical experience. Colleagues welcomed his assistance on difficult projects, and Alan’s efforts established him as a highly competent, go-to guy.
  • Focused on staying optimistic in all of his interactions. People appreciate being around positive thinkers, and optimism is contagious. By staying positive, Alan was able to increase his likeability and improve the mood of his immediate work environment.
  • Talked to everyone, regardless of their position. Alan did what I call influencing up, down, and laterally. He spent time engaging with his subordinates, colleagues, and superiors.
  • Made promises and kept them. Rather than playing it safe and quietly fulfilling his duties, Alan went out of his way to make commitments and then delivered on them in a big way. Developing that level of trust dramatically increases influence.

Alan eventually went on to start his own IT services company—but not before landing a promotion at his company.

Alan’s metamorphosis is notable in how closely it reflects the five traits that all influential leaders possess that I identified in a previous article. He already possessed technical and professional competence, but by working on his goal of building positive relationships in the workplace, he was able to develop his interpersonal skills, professional reputation, executive presence, and persuasiveness.

For more ideas on how to get a promotion or become a master influencer, contact me—or read my new book, Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.


Find Someone Who is Willing to Advocate for You

Climbing Up a Ladder
“Strong performers should expect their bosses to advocate for them and help them up the ladder.”

~Kerry Clark~
Former vice chairman of Procter & Gamble

A job advocate is someone who will campaign on your behalf, champion your cause, and help improve others’ perception of you. Think about who might be willing to speak up on your behalf and tell people what a great job you are doing. Your boss is an obvious choice since he or she looks good when you do, but other employees can be great advocates as well.

You might be thinking why do I need someone to advocate for me in the first place? Having an advocate can be an influential move to increase your value and help you up the company ladder.  A job advocate voices your strong points and supports your cause, essentially perking up your reputation and making you look good in front of others.  If you’re updating your resume to ask for a promotion, having an advocate to put in a positive word for you can help immensely.

So how exactly do you find an advocate?

You might be surprised at how easy it can be to find someone who will advocate for you. Many times, all you have to do is ask. Most people just don’t bother asking. Usually people won’t do or say anything unless you request them that you need this from them.

Anyone working above you can be your job advocate. This includes your senior colleagues, your boss’s boss, and of course your immediate boss. This group is ideal because they speak from a place of authority and their opinions carry significant weight in the organization.

Most people think that only people with higher authority and position can speak for you but you’ll be surprised that the opinions of people working below you or alongside you can matter as well. Your subordinates are not really expected to speak on your behalf so when they do it helps enhance your reputation. Your co-workers and peers don’t really have an incentive to shout out your praises, so when they do, it makes a positive impact.

In fact, even clients, suppliers, and vendors can help make a solid impression on others when they speak about you. Remember, one advocate is good, but two or three are even better!

Also, remember to return the favor. Advocate for star employees below you, peers you work with, and deserving colleagues when they ask.

For more strategies to help you increase your visibility and take your career to the next level, read my new book, Getting Ahead, which is available now from