Leadership is a Participation Sport

You’ve gotta get your hands dirty!

Now that we are enjoying a healthy economy and companies are growing again, I am seeing new leaders take the reins, and I’m also seeing experienced leaders struggling to retain talent.  I believe a major reason leaders lose their key players is that their “command and control” style of management doesn’t resonate well with our early career professionals.  Today’s professionals are looking for a little more interaction, teamwork, and finesse from their leaders.

I’ve had the honor of working under strong and confident leaders who take time to nurture and grow their teams – much like a farmer nurtures his crop because he knows that care and feeding produce a better quality product.  I’ve also been the unfortunate beneficiary of very poor leadership by people who believes that their ability to “lord over their people” is the only way to get results.  In my position, working with CEOs, Founders and executive teams every day, I observe a number of leaders and can confidently share what style of leadership works best in today’s climate.

Here are just a few thoughts – I would appreciate additional insights you might have so I can share them in Chapter 2!

  1. Walk in their shoes. One of the best methods for earning your leadership right is to sit alongside your team members and do their job with them. This is different than watching them do it or casually talking about how they do their work.  Actually spend a week walking in their shoes to see where the obstacles are, when processes break down, and how you can make their lives better.
  2. Catch ‘em doing something right. I tend to be very focused and disciplined at work. I have a list, a calendar, and I train my energy on the work that needs to be done.  The primary reason for this is that I’m a free spirit by nature and nothing would get done if I didn’t compensate for my natural tendency.  However, as a leader, you can’t always be involved only in your own to-do list.  In my first leadership role I needed to be more open, visible, and take on a more “manager” type persona.  In order to make sure my team knew I was available, and that I had an interest in them and their progress, I would reserve time in my day just to walk around and talk to my team.  Just checking in and thanking them, giving them encouragement, and celebrating successes with them showed them that I was involved with them, and helped me to build new “leadership muscles” in their eyes and mine.
  3. Don’t hoard feedback.  Big companies are notorious for this. As an employee you work for an entire year to do your best, meet your goals, and try to please your manager.  All of this in the hope that your “annual performance review” is a good one and you will get the maximum 4% raise.  This is a seriously broken system.  Don’t hoard feedback so that you can slap them with a demerit at the end of the year.  Generously offer constructive course corrections, feedback, thoughts and coaching on a daily basis in order to help your people be their best all year long and make them more confident in their own skills and position.
  4. Be the example. Unfortunately I have experienced what it’s like to work for people who, “do as I say, not as I do.”  I can’t imagine asking my team to do something that I would be unwilling to do.  You must live the values and model the behavior that you want to see in your people.  That is how you will earn their respect and loyalty.  If you show no enthusiasm for the job at hand, why should they?
  5. Let them use their wings. With every hire we make as leaders we tell our brains that we are done – this person will stay with us for life.  We like to think we will be able to offer him every career opportunity, professional growth opportunity, and salary desire he will ever need.  Well, as a leader you intellectually know this is not true.  Go into your new employee relationship with your eyes wide open.  Help him add value and achieve his potential while he is your responsibility, but then also coach him to fly when it’s time.

I would appreciate your stories and tips on effective leadership, and I’d like to include some of them in next month’s column.  Email me directly or connect on Linked In if you have a story to share!

Your success is in building your team to be better than you – trust me, it works!  Need help hiring in this crazy competitive market? Visit us here.