If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more you are a leader.’ John Quincy Adams
Every individual has a maximum potential for any given task or skill. For most of us, for most of the time it remains just that – potential. Rather like a lump of coal we have a tremendous potential energy but in the absence of the right conditions we can remain just as inert as that lump of coal.
Leadership is about unlocking that potential in the people we lead - done right it means we get the most out of people and that team members get the most out of themselves. But this potential energy is entirely discretionary. You can’t make anyone give more than they want. The art in leadership is to find what it is that inspires people to go the extra mile.
Depressingly A 2014 Global Work Place study by Towers Watson found only 35% of workers in a survey group of 32,000 full time employees described themselves as highly engaged. Grim reading but look at the potential opportunity in this – imagine the possible gains in performance, retention and competitiveness that can be made by improving engagement. How can we do this?
- Give people a voice and tell them what is going on. Commitment and buy in require a sense of belonging and purpose. This often stems in the first instance from being valued for your opinion and in being kept informed about what is going on. Leaders who keep the passage of information fast and flat, and who actively seek out and listen to their people make better decisions, have a clearer view of what is actually going on and have the strong support of their teams. Those who are kept in the dark and left without a voice are detached and frequently resentful. The very opposite of engaged.
- Tell people what to do, why they are doing it but not how. Mission command in military speak. You can’t control everything, so don’t even try. Counter-intuitively the solution to complex decision-making is not to push information to decision makers at the tip of a pyramid but to push authority down to people who have the ground truth but too rarely the authority or encouragement to act as they judge best. The antidote to the day-to-day friction of executing decisions is the initiative and drive of employees who are empowered to take decisions. If they know what it is we’re all trying to achieve let them figure out the best way forward.
- Encourage, support & sustain. Do your employees know clearly what a good job looks like – what is your defined standard of performance? Are requirements clear and are there clear short-term results that help define this? If we can measure our progress with effective feedback (the mechanism that enables any performance development system) we can rectify mistakes, make improvements and give praise and reward for a job that is well done. The judicious use of public praise is a powerful thing. Don’t debase the currency through overuse, but hard earned it’s golden.
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