“My leader helped me turn in my most mediocre performance ever.”
A leader is someone who helps you to turn in your best performance ever. You remember them because they pushed, prodded, persuaded, coaxed, and convinced you to become the bigger, better you that they could see inside you.
You won’t remember a leader who let you skate by with a mediocre performance.
“My leader never challenged me. He thought that would be micromanaging me. He left me alone.”
A leader challenges you. They don’t tell you what to do. They remind you of the outcome you are trying to produce. They don’t stand over your shoulder and watch, but they do require that you report on your progress, and they hold you accountable.
You won’t remember anything about a leader who neglects you, other than the fact that you were neglected.
“Of all the people I have worked for, I won’t remember this person having any effect on my life.”
If you have ever worked for a great leader, you will be able to easily recount the lessons they taught you. You will be able to recount the way that they helped you transcend who you were, and how you were transformed. You will always remember being part of their team, and how much it meant to you.
Leaders who you won’t remember this way aren’t good leaders.
“My leader never bothered me by communicating with me about who we were and what difference we were making. We were too busy working trying to improve shareholder value.”
Leaders communicate mission, vision, and values. Leaders remind you of why you are doing what you are doing. They remind you of where you are going. And they remind you who you need to be. They don’t focus their communication on things like “shareholder value,” because they know those ideas are impotent when it comes to moving all but a few people (namely, shareholders).
Great leaders know that you don’t improve the Profit and Loss statements by focusing on the Profit and Loss statements. You focus on your people first, and your customers second. The score takes care of itself.
“When I was faced with a real, personal challenge, my leader was nice enough to let me call human resources to see what my options were.”
Leaders are there for you when you need them. They will be there when you are personally challenged because they care about you as a human being, not as another cog in their wheel. They will listen. And, they will try to provide the help you need.
Reverting to policy is the act of not caring.
“I have no idea what was going on behind my leader’s always-closed door, but it must have been really important.”
Leaders have muddy boots. They are engaged in the work their company does. They are the first to deal with the biggest challenges their people face, and they lead by example, not by decree.
Hiding behind a closed door is an abdication of leadership.
“My leader was so smart that he never had to listen to anyone else’s ideas or get input about the real challenges we were facing in executing our jobs. He was always making changes.”
Leaders make decisions. They make choices based on the information they have available to them. They know that they need new and better ideas. They know that they don’t have a monopoly on ideas, and their job isn’t to be the smartest person in the room. A great leader seeks ideas, listens to different points of view, broadens their choices, and then decides based on their goals, values, and competing priorities.
A leader who doesn’t seek information, ideas, and input isn’t a strong leader.
“My leader was great at using his authority. He would remind you that he was the boss and that you worked for him. He was inspiring that way.”
The best leaders rely on an authority higher than their title. They rely on a moral authority, and they persuade people to take up the charge. Good leaders only rarely use force, and only when something or someone threatens the culture they are charged with protecting, or to prevent people from doing something illegal or immoral.
A poor leader believes his title is what gives him authority, not recognizing that the title provides him with no real power.