Leaders – It’s Not About You

Leadership is simple. It’s about influencing a group of people to accomplish a goal. The problem is most managers forget about the people, the goal, and their role in influencing others. In other words, they do everything except lead. Maybe this is the reason why 70% of employees are disengaged at work. The vast majority of workers are disconnected because most managers are also unplugged.

Most bosses are just too busy to lead. They are focused on their own work. They are going to meetings, working on reports, replying to e-mails, or checking off items on their to-do lists. These managers are simply too busy to get out of their office and truly engage with their teams. As a result, most employees hardly ever see their managers and rarely interact with them.

If you’re a leader, your actions have a profound effect on the lives and careers of the people working for you. Once you are given the responsibility to lead a team it’s no longer just about you, it’s about them. Great leaders understand this and go out of their way to get to know every employee they are responsible for.

These leaders understand that every interaction with an employee is a chance to lead. They engage in deep, meaningful conversations with their employees and do more listening than talking. Great leaders are sincerely interested in what each employee has to say. These leaders know that engaging with their teams is a critical part of their job.

How about you? Are you engaging with your team? Ask yourself these three questions:

  • Do you know your employees’ names, how long they’ve been with the company, and something about their lives outside of work?
  • Do you take time out of your daily schedule to visit your employees where they work?
  • Do you take time to thank employees, appreciate their contributions, and celebrate their successes?

Leaders – it’s not about you. When you are in charge, you have the watch. You are not only responsible for the results of the organization, but you are also responsible for your employees. Engaging with employees is an important part of your job, much more critical than answering a few e-mails.

Great leaders know that employees who are appreciated, respected, and supported will be more engaged and will always do more than expected.

Learn more about how to be a more effective leader in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

Why Do You Want to Be a Leader?

There are three questions you should ask before taking any leadership Job.

A Leadership Crisis

There is a crisis in America. There is a shortage of good leaders, and it seems to be getting worse. The problem is people are choosing leadership for the wrong reasons. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, is changing how people think about introverts. While she is widely known for her writings on this subject, it’s her thoughts on leadership that got my attention. In a New York Times article called “Not Leadership Material? Good. The World Needs Followers,” she explains that in America today we have “glorified” leadership. So much so that people are taking on leadership roles for the wrong reasons. They are choosing to become leaders to get recognition, more money, or to help advance their careers. She explains:

Perhaps the biggest disservice done by the outsize glorification of “leadership skills” is the practice of leadership itself – it hollows it out, it empties it of meaning. It attracts those who are motivated by the spotlight rather than by the ideas and people they serve. It teaches [people] to be a leader for the sake of being in charge, rather than in the name of a cause or idea they care about deeply. The difference between the two states of mind is profound.

Choosing to Lead for the Right Reasons

While the focus of her article is to point out the importance of those who don’t choose a leadership path, she indirectly uncovers the crisis in the current state of leadership. There is a shortage of good leaders. People are choosing to lead for the wrong reasons, which is why there are so many poor leaders.

If you want to be a leader, the first question you should ask yourself is why? Why do you want to be a leader? If you are choosing this role for the paycheck, the title, the prestige, the power, or the trappings of the position, you are going to be sadly disappointed. Leadership is difficult. Being responsible for motivating a group of people to accomplish a goal isn’t something you choose to do without careful consideration.

Three Questions

Let me suggest three questions to ask yourself:

Do you have a passion for leadership? Just like selecting any career, ask yourself if you have the passion to lead. To be a leader means you have the full responsibility of an organization and all the people associated with it. It means you will be accountable for everything that happens on your watch. It is a difficult and sometimes lonely job that demands a 24/7 commitment. Ask yourself if you have the passion and desire to be a great leader.

Do you care deeply about the idea or organization? As the leader, all eyes will be on you. Your attitudes toward the mission will reverberate throughout the organization. As a conductor, your team will be taking cues from you. If you care deeply about the organization’s mission, they will as well. If you are half-hearted, they will be too. Ask yourself if you care deeply about the idea or organization you will lead.

Do you love people? The one thing I see most in poor leaders is their negative attitude towards people. Leadership is a people business. Your entire job is to motivate people towards accomplishing a goal. Unfortunately, many people who don’t like people choose leadership. I understand. People are messy. They have issues, problems, emotions, relationships, and baggage. But your job is to see past the flaws, love your people, and motivate them to do great things. You can’t be a great leader if you don’t love people.

Consider your “Why?”

As Susan Cain points out, people are choosing to lead for the wrong reasons. The result is a hollowed-out, empty version of leadership that’s not good for people or organizations. Leadership, like any other profession, requires a specific set of skills. If you don’t have them, you shouldn’t pursue a leadership path.

Ask yourself these questions and determine if you have a passion to lead. Find out if you care deeply about the mission. Understand your view of people and what it takes to lead them. If you choose to lead, be a great leader. Honestly, we need better, not more, leaders.

Learn more about how to be a more effective leader in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

The Mission-Minded Leader

It Starts with the Mission

Great leaders are mission-minded. They are also great communicators. They understand the importance of clear, concise, and continuous communications with their teams. These leaders know how critical it is to get everyone rowing in the same direction. They appreciate the significance of getting people to recognize and carry out the organization’s mission.

So, why do most leaders forget to talk about their mission? Why are most mission statements ignored?

The problem is that most mission statements are typically long, complicated, and boring. They are written by committees and end up sitting in binders on dusty shelves or in cheap frames in the company’s lobby. Few have ever read them and even fewer can recite them. They’re completely irrelevant to the day-to-day operation of the business.

Mission-minded leaders know that when everyone knows the mission, there is cadence. When no one knows the mission, there is chaos.

But what if there was a better way? What if there was a simple method to embed the organization’s mission in everyday discussions? What if there was an easy way to get everyone on the same page?

This can be done and it’s easier than you think. Let me give you an example.

An Unforgettable Mission Statement

More than 20 years ago, my wife was a first-year teacher working at a small public school in Georgia. She had an amazing principal who was leading that school. The school had a mission to maximize the instruction time for each student. He wanted teachers to teach and not conduct other school business. He found a simple way to communicate his mission and it took just four words. In every meeting and interaction with his teachers, he simply said, “get up and teach.”

If teachers found themselves grading homework or working on lesson plans when the students were in the classroom, he wanted his words to remind them of what to do. He wanted them to put down their pens, get up out of their chairs, and teach students. Four simple words, “get up and teach,” was all he needed to communicate the mission.

What’s interesting is that all these years later, my wife still has those words echoing in her ears. Anytime she sits down in the classroom and she’s doing something other than teaching, her former leader’s words come to her. If she’s grading a paper or doing some administrative work, she hears his words, “get up and teach,” so she does. She puts down her pen, gets up, and she teaches because she knows that’s really what she’s there to do. These four simple words have stood the test of time. A mission statement she will never forget.

A Mission to be Different

This is something I have adopted in my business.

I run a manufacturing company called Peak Demand Inc. which I co-founded in 2016. We started this company because we believed that customers were tired of the existing suppliers in the industry. Lead times were long, prices were high, customer support was poor, and the buying process was complex. We wanted to change that. This was our mission.

We chose four simple words to communicate that mission. I remind employees daily that we are a “different kind of supplier.” Our mission is to provide something to the market that they can’t get from the other guys.

For example, other suppliers take 4-6 weeks to ship their product, we do it in 24 hours. Other suppliers have complex buying processes but you can order our products online and pay with a credit card if needed. If anything goes wrong in the field, the other guys make it hard to get it resolved. We have people on the phone 24 hours a day with the goal of getting the problem fixed as quickly as possible.

We’re different. We’re customer-driven, friendly, and we make things easy. When an issue comes up with a customer, I want my words echoing in the ears of my employees. When they start thinking like a big company, I want my words to remind them. I want them to choose a solution that would be different from the rest of the industry. I want them to be a “different kind of supplier.” It’s a quick and simple way to remind everyone of what the mission of our company is.

Internalizing the Mission

Great leaders are mission-minded. They are also great communicators. To be more effective as a leader, you need to communicate your mission daily. To do this, all you need is a simple, easy-to-remember way, to remind your employees of what’s important. Think about my wife, more than 20 years later, she is still reminded of those four simple words, get up and teach.” She’s still following them today even though she’s no longer part of that leader’s organization.

Great leaders are mission-minded. 

Make your mission statement so simple and so effective that when your employees hear it, they get it. They internalize it. It becomes part of who they are. If you do that, you’re going to build a mission-driven organization and be a much more effective leader.

Can you communicate your mission in just four words? Will your team remember it 20 years from now?  Mission-minded leaders answer yes to both these questions.

Learn more about how to be a more effective leader in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.

[Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Edward Guttierrez III/Released]