The True Measure Of A Leader

The true measure of a leader is not getting people to work; neither is it getting them to work hard. The true measure of a leader is getting people to work hard TOGETHER!

Fifty-one years ago, Herman James, a North Carolina mountain man, was drafted by the Army. On his first day in basic training, the Army issued him a comb. That afternoon the Army barber sheared off all his hair.

On his second day, the Army issued Herman a toothbrush. That afternoon the Army dentist yanked seven of his teeth.

On the third day, the Army issued him a jock strap. The Army has been looking for Herman for 51 years.

Obviously, Herman and the Army had not learned to work TOGETHER … or at the very least did not communicate very effectively. And those are two of the critical tasks of leadership.

After all, the main reason people quit their jobs … if they choose to do so … has very little to do with the job or even the organization. According to a Gallup Poll reported by Jim Hunter in “Leadership Wired” magazine, two-thirds of the people who quit their jobs quit because of their bosses.

So how does a boss or a leader get people to do more than work or work hard? How does a boss or a leader get people to work hard TOGETHER? Here are a few tips from my program on “The Partnership Payoff: 7 Keys To Better Relationships And Greater Teamwork.”

=> 1. Project self-confidence.

It is contagious. If you feel good about yourself and believe in yourself, chances are you’ll get better results from others … because team members like to work for winners.

Indeed, to be an effective leader, you’ve got to have so much self-confidence that you don’t “need” the approval of others. Oh sure, it would be nice to have their approval, but it’s not necessary. Even parents know they can’t be effective parents if they’re always worried about what their kids think of them or whether or not their kids are happy.

And the same thing is true in the world of work. You can’t be a great leader if you spend too much time trying to win the approval of your team mates. Just remember, the teachers (and bosses) we respected the most were the ones who demanded the most and got the most out of us.

Of course, it takes a measure of self-confidence to be a bit demanding. So I recommend author Marcia Wieder’s advice: “Focus more on your desire than on your doubt, and the dream will take care of itself. You may be surprised at how easily this happens. Your doubts are not as powerful as your desires, unless you make them so.”

=> 2. Exhibit a “can-do” attitude.

When all is said and done, team members want leaders who have a vision, who have a purpose, who offer direction, and back it up with lots of passion. They want leaders who will give them an optimistic, “can-do” attitude.

In fact, that’s what the elections of 2008 and 2010 boiled down to. Whomever seemed to offer the most hope for a better future got the most support.

Tonya Cook and her colleagues at the South Dakota STAR Academy know that. After attending my seminar in Pierre, she wrote to tell me that she and a handful of her colleagues are “constantly promoting an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ at work. They know the more positive and enthusiastic they are, the more other people tend to get on the bandwagon of working hard TOGETHER.

As mayor, Rudolph Guiliani had six principles of leadership. One of them said, “Be an optimist. People do not follow pessimists. They follow people who solve problems and who have hope.”

That leads naturally to …

=> 3. Stamp out negativity.

Nothing demotivates people more quickly than negativity. And nothing destroys teamwork more quickly than negativity. So effective leaders do their best to stamp it out.

Reggie Clifton from Offutt Air Force Base attended one of my seminars and told me how he did it in his office. As he wrote, “I was continually trying to keep little fires from flaring up in our office, little things such as employees talking about others … their job performance, dress, or whatever. But it wasn’t working.”

“Finally I had had enough of the negativity and put a Complaint Jar out in the middle of the office area. Whenever an employee complained to a fellow employee about an office policy or another team mate, he had to follow up his complaint with a constructive solution. If not, he had to put a quarter in the Complaint Jar. The employees policed themselves, and the result was a quick and dramatic reduction in the petty complaints. And whatever money we did collect was used for pizza and drinks at the next office meeting.”

Very cool! Reggie’s idea not only helped stamp out negativity, it also brought out the problem-solving creativity of his group. As C. Gene Wilkes describes in his book, “Jesus on Leadership,” teamwork is superior to individual effort … because “teams provide multiple perspectives on how to meet a need or reach a goal, thus devising several alternatives to each situation.” As Wilkes concludes, “Individual insight is seldom as broad and deep as a group’s when it takes on a problem.”

=> 4. Help team mates make connections.

Most people are a little uncomfortable when it comes to meeting new people, so they tend to sit in the same place next to the same people at every staff meeting. And they tend to talk to the same people in the company cafeteria about the same things.

But a leader who wants her people to work hard TOGETHER will help her people make unexpected connections. She will organize and lead conversations among people who don’t normally interact with each other.

Consultant Bill Lee even takes it a step further. He tells his clients to “Host events for employees and their families. In some cases, employees spend more time in the workplace than they spend at home, and when they’re at home, they are often talking about friends at work. Take advantage of opportunities to bring employees and their families together. Summer picnics, award banquets and Christmas parties are great opportunities to allow employees to introduce their spouse and kids to coworkers. At your next Christmas party, invite a Santa Claus. Make your employees’ kids happy and odds are you will make the employees happy.”

=> 5. Balance praise with challenge.

It’s one of the best ways to keep people working, working hard, and working together. Effective leaders know they have to be good at praising the good results their teams bring about, but they also have to leave room for continual improvement. They have to instill courage and stamina for the tough times ahead.

Perhaps you’ve had an employee tell you that a difficult task has gone well, but you know that he had been worried about it nonetheless. Try this approach to balance out your praise with challenge.

Congratulate your team mate on a job well done. Then ask a few questions to uncover the difficulties he encountered along the way. You might start off by saying, “Good job on meeting that deadline. I know that had to be hard. What gave you the most trouble?” Your praise becomes much more meaningful because your team mate knows you understand the complexity of the task. But you’re also giving your team mate a chance to expand on his achievement.

That’s the praise part. And then balance it out with some challenge. If you’re especially concerned about a particular aspect of the task, ask about it. You could say, “Getting the product out on time has always been the most difficult step in that procedure. How did you manage that?” You’ll gain some useful knowledge to share with others who are doing similar tasks. But you’re also giving your team mate a chance to do a little bragging at the same time realize he can handle the challenges that come with the job.

=> 6. Recognize the little things.

Every once in a while, the world or an organization changes dramatically and quickly. More often than not, however, the world and our organizations change an inch at a time, not miles at a time. As author Edward S. Finkelstein puts it, “Bigness comes from doing many small things well. Individually, they are not very dramatic transactions. Together though, they add up.”

So an astute leader is always on the look out for progress and improvements, and he’s always ready to celebrate. Dan Tully of Merrill Lynch does that. He says, “It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t seek all the credit. I find nothing is really one person’s idea.”

When it comes to leadership and teamwork, you’ve got a choice. You can be a big fish in a little pond or you can live in the ocean. To get the good things that come with the ocean, to get people to work hard TOGETHER, try these six strategies.

Action:  Find five “little things” your team has done well this week and praise them for the “little things” that contribute to your team’s overall success.