Everyone you interview has the potential to be a future leader. The problem is we often want to hire people who are the leaders today. Not only that, we want them to have 3 PhDs and 15 years of experience in each field. I just read a wonderful article from Liz Ryan, the founder of Human Workplace. She discusses how so many HR departments are posting job ads for people that simply don’t exist or, if they did, they certainly wouldn’t work for the salary being offered.
When I hire, I look for those future leaders, the people I know will be great with some coaching. I search for passion, integrity, and drive to improve. Training is so easy and 90% of any job is on the job training regardless of how much relevant experience the person has. Your systems, culture, and team dynamics are always going to be different from what they were doing before. In short, a person’s potential is often far more valuable than their actual experience and qualifications.
The plaintiff if Liz’s article above illustrates another common situation, especially here in China. Management is way behind on deadlines they shouldn’t have set in the first place because they don’t actually have the staff to deliver. Then they decide they need some mythical wizard that magically takes over a role and does the best job ever to deliver on time and to specs. Of course, this person can’t be found (and even if they could, they certainly have a job already and wouldn’t be sending in applications to web ads) and then, instead of reexamining their assumptions about deadlines, capabilities, and hiring requirements, they blame the poor recruitment manager for not finding the right people. I’ve seen this more times than I can count.
Real leaders set realistic goals for their teams and make sure they have the staff and resources available before promising the moon. They also know they will need to hire good people and develop them, not expect to be able to find some wizard to clean up the mess they’ve put themselves in.
Look for those people who would be a great fit for your team. Give them your time and your attention . Pretty soon, you’ll find you built a team of incredible people, people who are loyal to you for the help you’ve given them.
Even as leaders, we often don’t actually have the official power to accomplish what we want. We are tied to other departments, 3rd party organizations, and managers of all shapes and sizes. One of the hardest things for me to learn as a growing leader was how to get things done without actually have any decision-making power or authority in various areas.
The very interesting thing you learn is that the strength of your idea and usefulness to the organization is probably one of the most unimportant factors in accomplishing a task. It depends much more on if you communicate the information in a way that makes people want to hear it and the strength of your relationships which determines how much they’re willing to support your idea.
I once had a manager tell me that you should want the outcome of any conversation for that person to want to hear more. While this is not always possible, it’s a good rule of thumb in trying to get things done. One savvy trick I quickly learned when working for a very large organization was to send feedback, suggestions, and ideas up through people with influence. Maybe you don’t have your manager’s ear, but your friend in accounting might. Sending the idea through your friend rather than yourself makes it more likely to be heard and your friend gets some credit too if the idea is successful. The truth is, your relationships are much more a key to your success than any ability or knowledge you possess.
The face of your organization is your team. Your front-line staff may appear the most important and certainly they have the most direct contact with your customers, but everyone in your organization has some impact on your front-line staff and sets the tone for your culture. The formula is simple: Happy workers make happy customers. Your people can be your biggest advocates or they can bring down the entire organization. Would you go back to McDonalds if you always had to deal with disagreeable or unhappy people? Definitely not. Have you ever been in an Apple Store and infected by their enthusiasm for their products. That doesn’t happen by treating employees as a business expense. It happens by treating them with respect, involving them in the organization, and making them proud of what your organization is offering.
Treat your team with respect. You’ll not only feel good about how you’re putting a little happiness into people’s lives, you’ll also be investing in the people that have the most power to make or break your organization.
This got me thinking about our obsession with results. Then it got me thinking about sports. In particular, it got me thinking about those times when you’re playing sports and you find that you can’t lose, when everything just seems to flow. But then there are those other times. You know the ones, where your game starts going downhill. Then you get frustrated and resolve to just focus and do better, but all that seems to happen is you get worse and worse.
This is the danger in being too focused on the result or the objective. In sports, when we are in love with the game, practice comes as pleasure and we seem to do well by seamlessly integrating all the different requirements being demanded of our brains and bodies. When we do poorly though, when we get frustrated, practice becomes a chore. Then we start to over-analyze every little body movement. What came naturally before is broken down into component pieces and we can’t seem to connect them to achieve success.
The same happens in business. When we are working at jobs we love towards a purpose we believe in, everything seems to come naturally and the results take care of themselves. However, when things aren’t going well, we become obsessed with the result and it’s all we talk about. We break down every procedure and action to determine areas for improvement, but, suddenly, we lose sight of the whole. Performance continues to decline and we respond by introducing tighter and tighter controls.
What we really need to do is realign around our purpose. We need to find our love of the game again and help our teams find it as well. Instead of focusing on the number of calls or the length of interactions or the number of units produced in X amount of time, we remind our teams that the real goal is providing great customer service or releasing a great product. Once we do that, we and our teams will take the actions necessary to deliver. We’ll re-achieve our flow.
Like most businesses these days, your organization probably has a mission statement meant to inspire its employees. It’s part of every employee handbook and hanging on nice plaques around the office. It probably includes words like integrity, respect, authenticity, passion, and excellence. For far too many organizations, this mission statement is just something put in writing that nobody pays much mind to. How does your organization really define success? To find out, you need to look at what messages are sent on a regular basis and, more importantly, what actions are taken.
How often do you find yourself talking about your organization’s mission to your team? How often, instead, do you hear phrases like share-holder value, maximize profits, quarterly targets, or incentive-based bonus coming out of your mouth? If those words occur more regularly in your communications with your team than the ones in the mission statement, then that’s what your team will perceive as your real mission. And nothing is less inspiring than making more money for someone else just for the sake of making them richer.
Real leaders and organizations that truly want to inspire their employees don’t just pay lip-service to a mission statement, they live it each and every day. At every opportunity, they take a moment to remind their team of the mission and how they are individually contributing to making that positive difference. It’s brought up in meetings, emails, performance reviews, and one on ones. Your team wants to know how they contribute and what value they bring to themselves, each other, your customers, and the community. If they can see these, they’ll stay with you through thick and thin. If, on the other hand, the only motivation for an employee to stay with you is a bigger bonus or the next promotion, then they’ll leave you at the drop of a hat when a better offer for a larger bonus or quicker promotion comes along from somewhere else.
But it’s not just the messages you send, it’s the actions you take. Who gets the bonuses in your organization? Who gets promoted? Those actions show a companies true mission statement. If Jack got promoted for being top sales person even though he never helps his team, the rest of the employees understand that all their leader or the organization cares about is getting a sale and who cares how. As a leader, it’s essential to live your mission statement through your actions. Speak with authenticity, act with integrity, support your team, pursue excellence for its own sake. Basically, lead by example.
Once you do that, your team will follow you. And, even if others in your organization aren’t following suit quite yet, once they see the results you are driving through employee and customer satisfaction, they’ll start to pay attention and get the message. With constant pressure to drive results, it may not be easy to focus on your real mission over short term gains. But when you do, you will go home each night proud of the fact that you worked to make a real difference that sets an example for others to model.
This question is critical for determining both the way you interact with others within the organization as well as with the communities you operate in. Is success defined as being Number 1, as getting the biggest bonus, as getting the next promotion? If so, it’s time to re-envision your mission. The best leaders are the ones that work for others, not for themselves. They are the ones who strive to create a better life for their employees, their customers, and their environment. It’s also easy to fall into the trap laid out by hubris and become Number 1 by mudslinging those around you or gaming the system to make your numbers look better. But does any of that make a positive difference for your employees or your communities?
To be a truly inspiring leader that people clamor to work for and that truly makes a difference, you need to define success by making a positive difference in the lives of those you come into contact with. Maybe that means taking the high road and only saying good things about those around you, even when they don’t. Maybe that means slowing down to give your customers the best possible product or experience rather than lower quality by rushing it just to achieve target. What it definitely means is putting others before yourself. Help that team member get the next promotion. Take the time to make that customer’s day. Approve the extra budget expense to buy greener technology that creates less waste.
So today, take a step back and think about how you define success. Think about what interactions you’ll have with your team and what decisions you will make that will re-envision that definition or help you achieve it. Today, you truly have the power to make a positive difference in the lives of those around you. Let’s get to it.
Did you know that companies that promote volunteering have more engaged employees and are more likely to retain them? Did you know that creating a positive brand image through corporate citizenship initiatives attracts more customers and drives profits? Who the hell cares!
You shouldn’t be involved in your community because it drives your bottom-line. You should be involved in your community because your business is a part of it and it’s the right thing to do. You should be involved in your community because your business depends on that same community, whether it’s local or global, to survive. As your business grows, it also grows in wealth and influence, both of which can be used to make positive contributions to the very same employees and customers that got you where you are today. So today, show them some gratitude and become a part of business for a better world. Start a volunteer project, make a donation, raise awareness of an important social issue, or make the change to more eco-friendly materials. Tomorrow starts with you.