Becoming the Leader Whom Others Want to Follow
Are your directs following your guidance simply because that’s what they are supposed to do? Because that is what is expected? Because they need the job? All of these reasons have some legitimacy, but you will never see them perform at the levels that will bring you great results until they go beyond “supposed to” to “want to”, especially involving how they perceive you, their leader. When people experience a leader whom they are drawn to, they are catalyzed to work better, more missionally and in a more dedicated fashion.
Think for a moment about those who have led you well in the past. Most likely, something about them made you “want to” follow their lead. In fact, they may have contributed significantly to the achievements you have now reached at this part of your career. When I conduct in-house consulting with companies that are performing well, I almost always find a CEO or executive who is a magnet for talent. Here are a few of the keys I have found will make a difference for you.
To clarify is to make something so clear that it can’t be misunderstood, and so that people experience a structure to work that makes sense. Leaders must clarify, every single day. They must clarify what the mission of the company or the division is. They must clarify the plan. And they must clarify what is expected of the team and all the workers.
Clarity draws people because God designed us to respond to it. When things are clear, we feel more secure and more focused. We don’t waste energy. When Jesus said, “’Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’” (Matt. 5:37), he was telling us to be clear about what we want, choose and expect.
I tell my clients to review 3 clarity rules often with their directs: What is your role? What is not your role? How does your role impact the mission of the company? These get people thinking, and you will be surprised at the fuzzy or even wrong thinking people have when you ask these questions.
Have you ever had a conversation with a good and competent person, but you just couldn’t feel connected to them? That is, you probably appreciated what they said, but there was just no warmth. This is the “people skill” part of leadership. Warmth is the capacity to make people feel that they belong, and that you are interested in them. When they experience you as warm, you have triggered the “I belong here” mechanisms in their brains, and they are more likely to put their whole selves into the job.
It is so easy to get into the “task” mode of getting things done. After all, that is what work is about. Good leaders are aware of this, and curb the task aspects long enough to spend time being interested in their people. Though it may seem like being off-mission, the time you spend will pay off at higher levels for you and your organization.
People are also drawn to a leader who actually leads, that is, they influence behavior, performance, events and outcomes. We are all designed to be part of a mission that is larger than ourselves. It excites and moves us. The Great Commission is the highest mission, in Jesus’ words: “’Therefore go and make disciples of all nations’” (Matthew 28:19). Your company has a mission statement. But that is not enough. People need to see you move things along, and create changes via your influence.
Influence comes in many ways: creating buy-in, inspiring, messaging, and challenge, to name a few. However you do this, make sure that by the end of each day, you can look back on some change you have made that your people can see and experience. They need to perceive that you are making changes and improvements, and they will trust you more.
When you provide identification, you have become a leader that people see as real and authentic. That is, they can identify your personality and style as being like their own. This is the opposite of the “bulletproof” leader style, in which he or she can show no flaws or weaknesses. That tends to result in either short-lived hero worship (which always backfires) or alienation (“He is so perfect that I can’t relate to him”). One of the most powerful aspects of Christianity is that Jesus identified with our struggles, so that we would know he understands us: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin (Heb. 4:15).” We know He “gets it” about us at the deepest level.
The best way to help people identify is to admit flaws and mistakes, and not hide them. When you say, “I didn’t play my A game with the Smith account, and that’s why we lost it”, you are creating in your people a sense of “It’s OK to be me.” And you will not only foster loyalty, but also a culture of openness, so that performance problems can be solved once and for all.
Don’t ever lose your competency edge. But move beyond that into these four skills, and add them to your tool box. You will reap the loyalty and dedication of others. God bless you.
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