“Leadership is the desire to promote growth in others in spite of one’s own insecurities.”
As a professional speaker and consultant, I see a lot of people in my practice who’ve got the TITLE, but they don’t have the TALENT. In other words, they may be called team coordinators, supervisors, managers, directors, or vice presidents on the job. And they may be called parents at home. But that doesn’t mean they’re leaders. Some are and some aren’t.
So let me give you a little quiz — my modified version of Frank Pacetta’s quiz found in “Don’t Fire Them, Fire Them Up.” If you can say “yes” to all of these statements, you’re on the right path to effective leadership.
* I recognized someone in my group today with a sincere “thank-you” or some other form of recognition.
(If you’re not doing that, you’re not bringing out the best in others.)
* I taught, coached, or motivated someone in my group today.
(If you’re not sure, you need to be asking the people in your group how they feel
* I listened to one or more people in my group today.
(Note: If you answered “yes,” write down what you learned. If you can’t remember, you didn’t really listen.)
* I can name three leadership techniques I used with members of my group today.
(Okay then, name them. Write them down.)
* I can see that every member of my group is meeting my expectations.
(If you say “no,” outline on paper what you will do to improve their performance.)
How did you do on the quiz? Could you say “yes” to all 5 statements? If not, you’ve got some room for improvement.
Whatever your score, I’m going to presume that you’re either a highly effective leader … or you want to be a more effective leader … in some aspect of your professional or personal life. That’s why one of my most-requested programs is “Peak Performance: Motivating the Best in Others.”
But for today’s purposes, here are three ways you can improve your leadership ability … starting today.
=> 1. Exhibit a strong BELIEF in the people you are leading.
The playwright John Galsworthy knew that. He said, “I think the greatest thing in the world is to believe in people.”
Unfortunately, some leaders really struggle with this simple concept. They’re convinced that some people on their team will never amount to anything. So instead of believing IN their people, they believe something bad ABOUT their people.
Take, for example, these excerpts from actual performance reviews. It’s quite obvious from the comments that these bosses did not believe IN their employees.
* “Since my last report, this employee has reached rock bottom … and has started to dig.”
* “His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity.”
* “This employee is really not so much a ‘has-been,’ but more of a definite ‘won’t-be’.”
* “When she opens her mouth, it seems that it is only to change feet.”
* “He would be out of his depth in a parking lot puddle.”
* “This young lady has delusions of adequacy.”
* “He sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.”
* “This employee should go far … and the sooner he starts the better.”
* “Got a full 6-pack, but lacks the plastic thingie to hold it all together.”
* “He brings a lot of joy whenever he leaves the room.”
* “Some drink from the fountain of knowledge; he only gargled.”
* “The wheel is turning, but the hamster is dead.”
By contrast, strong leaders exhibit a strong belief IN their people. Strong leaders know that each one of their people has a vast reservoir of untapped potential. And using the RIGHT approach, strong leaders believe they can help their people release and use their untapped potential.
And a part of that approach comes from your EXPECTATIONS. As writer Merry Browne says, “Expect people to be better than they are; it helps them to become better. But don’t be disappointed when they are not; it helps them to keep trying.”
What do you expect of your people … deep down? Do you expect them to perform well? Or do you expect them to goof up, slide by, and slack off without your constant supervision? I can tell you from experience that your people probably know how you feel and what you expect of them. And to a great extent they will live up or down to your expectations. So you’re much better off having high expectations.
=> 2. Show your UNDERSTANDING of the people you are leading.
Plato talked about that hundreds of years ago. He understood the importance of understanding. He said, “Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how small.”
And he was right. You wouldn’t criticize your one-year old child who kept falling down when he was learning to walk. You wouldn’t say, “You look really stupid stumbling around … or … What’s wrong with you anyway? … or … I can’t wait all day for you to learn what you should have learned last week.”
No, you would show a patient understanding of your child’s learning process. You would encourage him every little step of the way. And we should lead our employees pretty much the same way.
I like the way author Thich Nhat Hanh puts it. He tells us to treat our employees like lemon trees — with understanding. In his book called “Interbeing,” Thich says, “When we grow a lemon tree, we want it to be vigorous and beautiful. But, if it isn’t vigorous and beautiful, we don’t blame the tree. We observe it in order to understand why it isn’t growing well. Perhaps we have not taken good care of it.”
“We know it is funny to blame a lemon tree, but we do blame human beings when they are not growing well. But human beings are not very different from lemon trees. If we take good care of them, they will grow properly. Blaming never helps. Only love and understanding can help people change.”
“If we take good care of people, we will be rewarded by their pleasantness. Is this much different from the rewards we receive from our lemon tree?”
He’s right. Effective leaders BELIEVE in their people as well as UNDERSTAND their people. But they also…
=> 3. Intentionally TRAIN their people to become their best.
Dr. Susan Levering conducted a study for the National Association of Wholesalers entitled “Smart Investments.” However, her conclusion, I think, applies to all people who aspire to roles of strong leadership. She says, “Training and development actually matters.” In fact, she says, “Today’s workforce is eager to affiliate with companies that provide them opportunity for career growth and professional advancement.”
Of course, some of the less enlightened companies will challenge me when I push them to invest more of their resources in training. They think I’m self-serving, just pushing training so I can get hired. They’ll say, “What if I train my people and they leave?”
My response is always, “So what? How much worse would it be if you DON’T train your people and they stay? How awful would that be?”
And that’s exactly what you see in many organizations today. Just look at the quality of the customer service you receive in some places, and you’ll know what I mean. The employees weren’t trained, but they stayed on, turning off customers … rather than serving them in a way that builds the company’s business.
As Dr. Levering went on to say, “No one can guarantee that training and development activities will make you more profitable or even more competitive. One thing, however, is certainly true: The absence of Training and Development activity is a deterrent to building strong companies with loyal employees and strong productivity.”
Action: Would the people in your organization SAY that you believe in them? If so, what evidence would they cite that shows you BELIEVE in them? If not, what do you need to do differently?