One of my most clear and heartfelt management philosophies is “Don’t ask an employee to do something you’re not willing to do yourself.” I believe this wholeheartedly, and strive to practice it always.
When I was hired at my current job in middle management, I made a real effort in the first year or so to make sure that I always took the extra reference desk shifts, that I put my hand up first to work on holidays, that I dealt with uncomfortable situations and people without ever pawning it off on anyone (including the cleaning crew! They don’t want to unplug a toilet any more than I do, but they appreciate an effort. You can’t just stick on out-of-order sign on the bathroom for most of a day and leave the mess for them to deal with. Get in there with a plunger and try!). I wanted to establish that I’m not “above” the dirty work, and that I don’t expect my staff to do things I’m not willing to do. I didn’t stop after that first year, but the point was to make them trust and respect me right off the bat.
That said, there’s a fine balance between making yourself accessible and flexible and being good-natured and setting yourself up for being taken advantage of. I didn’t want my staff to start saying, “Just leave it for Holly.” The point is to lead by example. Here are some tips on how to do that.
Include others in the firefighting.
Extra desk shift? Sure, I’ll take it! Because I know you’d do the same for me. And when I need you to be the one who takes the extra shift, I simply say, “Do you mind taking this one? I was available last time, but I have a [meeting/program/whatever] this time. I’ll get the next one.” And you will. Toilet plugged? Say something like, “While I clean this up, could you cover the desk?” or “While I plunge, could you clean up this other mess?” or “If you’ll plunge, I’ll clean the toilet thoroughly afterward.” It’s called compromise and teamwork. Sometimes you’re going to have to do the dirty work, and sometimes you get to be the one who delegates. But you never get to excuse yourself completely from the situation.
Not in a throw-it-in-your-face kind of way, of course, but more in a sharing and caring way. I might deal with three things in a row, and then delegate the next set to someone else. For example, maybe I worked three Sundays in a row, and then approach someone else to take a few. You can say, “I worked the last three, but I need a weekend off. Do you mind?” They don’t mind. Truly. Now, if you NEVER work a Sunday and expect everyone else to work three in a row, you’ve got a problem.
Make it part of the career track.
I got to be a manager because I did my time. I’ve demonstrated to the staff what being an “in-charge person” (we call it “Librarian in Charge”) looks like. They, too, want to be a Librarian in Charge. The fame! The fortune! Just kidding, but anyone with an ounce of ambition really does want to move up in the world. Being given some responsibility is a mark of becoming a leader. Make it worth their while, and give them something to aspire to. Again, lead by example.
Take notice and say thank you.
Appreciate your staff when they do good things! You don’t necessarily have to reward them every time, but definitely say thank you – and mean it. When staff feel good about helping out, they will offer to help (not just accept their work grudgingly). They won’t just help you, their boss, either. They will help each other.