Monday, January 11, 2010

Leadership in a Nutshell - And "The Secret" of Successful Managers

I have over 200 books on leadership on my shelves. And yes, I've read all of them. Leadership has always been one of my favorite topics. But most of these books talk about leadership in lofty terms, as if it's something only the head of an organization does. And nearly all of them are academic or philosophical treatments. They don't get down and dirty and tell managers what they have to do.

Which makes books like this almost useless to a manager on the front lines who finds himself in charge of a group of people. So if you know your business and would like to know more about leading people, here it is in a nutshell.

The job of a leader is to get a group of people to bring their best effort and work together to achieve an important result.

So how are you supposed to do that? As you might have guessed, it's easier said than done. But here's what you have to do. Four things...

1. Develop your people. To do their best work, they have to know how. They'll come to you with knowledge and skill, yes, but over time you need to help them become more competent. Show them how to do things the right way. When things happen in the workplace, help them learn from their experiences. Share your wisdom. Give them information. Support them when there are opportunities to get training.

2. Inspire their motivation. They may know how, but they have to want to. Motivation comes from within. That means you can't motivate them. But if you learn who they are and nurture a relationship with each person, you can learn what motivates them. Find out what they value, what they need in their lives, what their goals are, and how they like to be treated at work. If possible, leverage their strengths and give them the kind of tasks they want to get involved in. Then help them satisfy their needs and achieve their goals through their jobs. Share your excitement for the team's mission.

3. Empower them. They'll need stuff: responsibility, authority, guidance, information, space, time, funds, materials, tools, supplies, systems, technology, transportation and other forms of support. You get the idea--the kinds of things they can't give themselves.

4. Encourage them to be strong for challenges. They'll need personal strength. When work involves crises, disappointments, mistakes, problems, and challenges, you'll need more than their can-do and their want-to. You'll need them to exercise patience, perseverance, composure, courage, loyalty, cooperation, effort, initiative and dozens of other personal strengths. You'll need to lead by example and when they get discouraged, encourage them.

Oh, and to do all these things well, you'll need strong people skills.

If all this seems like a lot, that's because it is. Which means you'll grow as a leader every day as you do what you have to do. My advice: become a lifelong learner when it comes to people skills.

Now for the secret. This is terrific news. The secret is that most of the time people will lead themselves. You can't be everywhere at once, and much of what you have to do will be away from their workspace. So they'll carry on without you.

When I was a young lieutenant in the Army, I asked my mentor, a colonel, this question: "What's the most important thing I can do to succeed as a leader?"

His answer surprised me. He said, "Surround yourself with talented people."

What he meant was, hire people who tend to be self-leaders. People who love to learn. High-energy people who already have goals. People who don't require much supervision. People with "the intangibles" - strong character. And then help them grow stronger in the job.

Experienced managers talk about three types of employees: (1) self-leaders who have the potential to be managers themselves, (2) willing followers who may someday learn to be self-leaders, and (3) the rest, who take up most of a manager's time and probably shouldn't have been hired in the first place.  You have to identify and get rid of the third type of employee so you can hire more of the first and second type.

That's the secret.


Sean said...

While it's great to hire people of the first and second type, the world is full of people of the third type and you can't realistically avoid them, I don't think. Or can you?

Often you don't get to choose who you lead, you're just given a staff, and told to go make the best of it. And thus the big challenge for managers is to make these people of third type more productive.

Anonymous said...

Super cool post Denny!;-)
theory is useless and unfortunately many people say:"i don't need to be interested in leadership development of my skills, as it is my boss is suppose to know this things not me..."
therefore as you have said: you need to get on board people who will be striving to learn and lead regardless their job title or position.
plus the authors of leadership books should target their work also at "lower levels" of organization.
you must raise your own leaders and develop them and they will reward you for the trust and invested attention to them...
enough i could type till tomorrow;-)
keep up the great work Denny

Michelle Sedas said...

I love metacognating :) thank you for the article! @MichelleSedas

Martin Webster said...

I enjoyed your post. In regard to the three types of employee, the reality is to get the balance right in your teams. Also, know peoples strengths so you can get the best from them.