“Leaders aren’t born; they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.”
We’ve all got our pet peeves. You know, the things that irritate us.
One of mine is when people describe themselves as a “just a …” When people say, “I’m just an administrative assistant … contract specialist … housewife … sales rep … supervisor … or … an hourly employee,” I get a little irritated and a little sad. I’m sad because they have no idea that they are leaders of some sort. They influence outcomes at work and at home.
And that’s what leadership is all about … influence. Leadership has almost nothing to do with title and has almost everything to do with behavior.
That being the case, it would serve you well to be a good, effective leader … on and off the job. And you will be a much more effective leader if you do nothing more than these four things. Dick and Rick Hoyt taught me that when Rick Reilly told their story in “Sports Illustrated.”
1. Give a vision to the people around you.
Fifty years ago, Rick was born in Winchester, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, Rick was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs.
“He’ll be a vegetable the rest of his life,” the doctors told Dick and his wife Judy. They advised the parents to put their son in an institution.
But the Hoyts weren’t willing to accept that recommendation. They noticed the way Rick’s eyes followed them around the room.
When Rick was eleven, they took him to the engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was anything they could to do to help the boy communicate. The professors said, “No way. There’s nothing going on in the boy’s brain.”
Dick countered, “Tell him a joke.” They did and Rick laughed. Turns out there was a lot was going on in his brain.
So the professors rigged the boy up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. And what were his first words? “Go Bruins!”
After a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident, the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out on his computer, “Dad, I want to do that.”
Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described “porker” who never ran more than a mile at a time, going to PUSH his son five miles? Still, he tried. “Then it was me who was handicapped,” Dick says. “I was sore for two weeks.”
But that was the day that Dick gave his son a vision. Or was it the other way around?
It doesn’t really matter. A leader is someone who inspires people to pursue a greater purpose and a bigger vision.
Remember, the majority of employees in this nation dislike their jobs. And since they are doing something they dislike about 40 hours every week or 160 hours every month, of course they’re going to get burned out, lose sight of the goals, and forget the vision. To be a leader you must be a source of inspiration for your colleagues, teammates, or employees. If you sense their morale is low, then you’ve got to do something that revitalizes them.
As Mahatma Gandhi so well said, “Be the change you wish to see in others.” If you want upbeat, take-charge employees, it starts with your own upbeat, take-charge approach.
Quite simply, if you are not passionate and energetic about the work of your team and your organization, why should they be? Being a leader means living your vision everyday … with energy … and reminding your employees that they are not just performing routine tasks; they are working for some greater purpose.
It’s why people volunteer for nonprofit organizations like Habitat for Humanity or Big Brothers Big Sisters. They receive an invisible compensation called “making a difference.” If you give your people a sense of vision, they will take on extra work without asking for extra pay because they understand their purpose.
As I tell people in my program on “The Leadership Payoff: How The Best Leaders Bring Out The Best In Others … And So Can You,” people will work for a paycheck. We all know that. But people will also die for a cause. We know that as well.
2. Build the trust amongst you.
Father and son, Dick and Rick Hoyt didn’t become a running team the moment they got the vision. I’m sure they had their moments of doubt. Could they really run a five-mile race together? Could they trust the other person to hang in there for all the hard work it would take to accomplish such a goal?
But that’s all a part of the trust-building process. As psychologist Fred Bryant puts it, “Bad things will come and find you, knock down your door, and make you deal with them. The positive stuff ain’t like that. You have to open the door, go hunt for it, and find it.”
The same principle applies to building trust in any team. There will be challenges to your trust. Will it stop you from going forward, or will it push you to find creative ways to keep on building the trust?
Wes Mirick, a meeting planner with the Institute for Management Studies who has hired me to speak on numerous occasions, says, “A leader recognizes opportunities when everyone else sees problems.”
Or as best-selling author Tom Clancy advises, “Fix your eyes forward on what you can do, not back on what you cannot change.”
It’s what the Hoyt team had to do. And their results were nothing short of phenomenal because they went on to …
3. Spark hope.
After their first five-mile race, Rick’s life was changed. “Dad,” he typed, “when we were running, it felt like I wasn’t disabled anymore!”
And that sentence changed Dick’s life as well. He became obsessed with giving Rick that feeling as often as he could. He got into such hard-belly shape that he and Rick were ready to try the 1979 Boston Marathon.
“No way,” Dick was told by a race official. The Hoyts weren’t quite a single runner and they weren’t quite a wheelchair competitor. For a few years Dick and Rick just joined the massive field and ran anyway. Then they found a way to get into the race officially. In 1983 they ran another marathon so fast they made the qualifying time for Boston the following year.
Then somebody said, “Hey, Dick, why not a triathlon?”
How’s a guy, who never learned to swim and hadn’t ridden a bike since he was six, going to haul his 110-pound kid through a triathlon? Still, Dick tried. The Hoyt team was not just running, they were now running, swimming, and biking on HOPE.
And few things are more important for a leader to do than impart hope in his fellow teammates. As C. Neil Smith, the Vice President of Engineering & Business Development for the Crescent Point Energy Corporation sees it, “Take from a man his wealth and you hinder him; take from his purpose and you slow him down. But take from man his hope and you stop him. He can go on without wealth and even without purpose, for a while. But he will not go on without hope.”
When I was growing up, my environment encouraged me to be afraid of everything … rejection, failure, loss, poverty, disapproval, and a host of other things. But three teacher-leaders (Virgelee LeDue, Sally Webb, and Dale Krammes) taught me that fear has been and always will be our biggest enemy. And like real leaders, they instilled hope and helped me develop the courage I needed to succeed.
And does hope work? Did it work for the Hoyts? You be the judge … because the fourth factor in being a more effective leader is to…
4. Bring about results.
Eighty-five times Dick has pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in marathons. Eight times he’s not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars – all in the same day.
Dick has also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back mountain climbing and once hauled him across the U.S. on a bike.
They’ve now done well over 200 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour Iron mans in Hawaii. As Rick Reilly said in “Sports Illustrated,” “It must be a buzz kill to be a 25-year-old stud getting passed by an old guy towing a grown man in a dinghy, don’t you think?”
When people tell Dick he should try running on his own, to see how good he could be without towing his son, he replies, “No way.” Dick does it purely for “the awesome feeling” he gets seeing Rick with a huge smile as they run, swim and ride together.
“No question about it,” Rick types. “My dad is the Father of the Century.”
And Dick got something else out of all this too. A few years ago he had a mild heart attack during a race. Doctors found that one of his arteries was 95% clogged. “If you hadn’t been in such great shape,” one doctor told him, “you probably would’ve died 15 years ago.”
So, in a way, Dick and Rick saved each other’s life.
And isn’t that the way it always is when a person serves as a truly effective leader? Everyone benefits.