You Want To Talk Leadership? Talk To The Hand.
I realize that I’m opening Pandora’s box here and as such as I write this not without a some anxiety. But I’m so vexed by and tired of the iterative articles about leadership, management, developing a vision and motivating people who I’m going to take the risk.
Stop reading these books. Stop looking for a blueprint that is going to provide you with the path towards the outstanding development of people. And definitely move away from any books which offer you ‘ten steps’ to a better anything. Ok, here’s the one caveat to this whole mini-rant – if you find all of this redundancy interesting, have at it. Just don’t expect it to add to your tool kit, complement your style and/or turn you into an outstanding leader. And you know what? There’s really nothing all that new under the ‘how to’ sun.
“Hypocrite”, you say – and you’re right. I offer consulting services about these very topics. I speak to groups about leadership and team engagement (though I admit that I am not your run-of-the-mill consultant and build programs that are hardly boiler-plate and mildly irreverent). I’ve read more books than Doan’s has back pills. And I come away with a different perspective. If you want to be a great leader of people, learn about yourself and the people around you first. Do the obvious – build trust – be consistent, do what you say you’re going to do, engage people in dialogue, watch what they’re doing every day and ask for input. Provide feedback – informal, formal – whichever, as long as it’s consistent and regular. No excuses – find the time. Give people work that is going to help them expand their minds and their abilities. Trust that they will do it well and if they struggle, jump into the gosh darn fray and help them figure it out! Credit the efforts of others and learn to be generous. Set the bar high and make sure you’re hitting regularly and owning it when you miss. Share information – often. Problem solve out loud and encourage your team to understand how you think. Not that much is confidential and the more you consider too ‘sensitive’ for others, the narrower the views you offer of the organization’s direction, which further compromises peoples’ understanding and ownership of their jobs. Get over yourself and get into your people. Reward accountability with more substantive responsibility. Praise in a way that matters to the person. Counsel in private.
And – if you’re going to be in charge of a department, a company, a branch office, etc, find yourself a leader you admire in your organization and ask them to actively mentor you. Tell them you want him/her to call you on your mistakes, help you exceed the basic criteria and guide you in the nuance and delicacy of effective communication. Role-play tough conversations; have someone read your draft performance reviews to make sure they’re substantive and meaningful. And if you want to read a book – do so!! Read biographies of the outstanding leaders in history (preferable those written by great writers so you don’t nod off), read poetry and essays about the human condition. Read articles from futurists and pragmatists. Read humor – it keeps us humble. Expand your world view. It’s bigger than your organization. Practice being true to yourself and those around you. Fall down. Get up. Ask for a hand.
To me these are the real lessons.
And the real lesson is for the C-level folks who are putting people into managerial positions and giving them how-to seminars to attend or provide in-house training and consider their jobs well done by doing so. You’re not going to groom anyone for anything that way. I left the firm as the culture I adored began to erode. Whatever it now is, it is not something for which I would evangelize. Word is that there are vestiges of its value system, but time is moving the organization forward into a bureaucratic behemoth that is sacrificing much of its identity for newer, slicker and more expedient. Times change, companies do what they need to do. So it goes. But what doesn’t change is the need for outstanding leadership and we have got to stop thinking that a ‘how to’ book or a lecture is the ultimate answer. Get busy with the practice and doing and trying. Organizations need to make effective mentorship a yearly objective for which executives will be reviewed and compensated. That’s how you deepen the bench. That’s how you strengthen your team. You won’t find it on page 128.