The problem isn't your employees
I have been in corporate America for 20 years and I have experienced great leadership and poor leadership. The great leadership includes several values: Empowerment, excitement, vision and clarity.
I have also suffered under poor leadership. Poor leadership has the exact same qualities but reversed: Feeling powerless, dull environment, lack of vision, and murky communication. You’re probably thinking that the people making the decisions for “the employee’s” are to blame. You might point at their pedigrees. They didn’t have the right education, experience, etc.
But you’d be wrong. I graduated from Baylor University, and I have certainly worked under people who went to “better” schools. I’ve also worked under people who came from upper echelon corporations, and both factors didn't impact their gift for leadership.
Today, you scroll through “professional” social media sites and you see “how to” articles about leadership which really don’t say anything. You see articles that point the finger at the employee’s…saying that they could be better.
The writers of the articles don’t know about leadership so I don’t blame them – there isn’t a lot out there to tell us what “great leaders” are. As for employees: There isn’t a single living employee who couldn’t be “better.”
I think it’s the simplicity of leadership that confuses most people. The more you put it under the microscope…the more complicated it gets. Maybe we get wrapped up in the aspects of a certain leader’s “personality” – this is always a mistake. Personality is like perfume. It might catch your attention but at the end of the day it’s merely an expression.
So let’s get down to what exists. It might surprise you to learn that great leaders are like a broken record. They do the same things over and over again. They paint a picture of the company to their employee’s. They tell them where the company’s been (this is usually done in a review of the previous quarter). They tell them where the company is currently (also done with numbers), and they tell them where they’re going.
A natural leader will be bored, but deadly accurate, about where the company’s been. He/she will get a little more excited when they get to where the company is...and then they really “kick in” when they get to where the company is going.
A great leader is optimistic to the point of being downright enthusiastic, and unlike a lot of others who have the same qualities: They don’t lose sight of the details. This is one of the reasons for their rarity. It’s also a critical component of their success.
For instance, when he/she gets to their favorite part of the speech…they don’t just tell you where the company is going: They tell you how you’re going to get there. You see, they have it all planned out, and they won’t be doing any of the “grunt” work. They understand that it will be the employees who make it happen.
You might think that it takes a “great man/woman” to be a great leader but you’d be wrong here too. I have seen greedy, egotistical, shallow people lead others to greatness. Some of them have an ability to empathize without having any real compassion, although I won’t go into this here.
No, what separates them from the pack is something other than character. It is knowledge. The basics I mentioned earlier (knowing where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going) are a prerequisite. Every “so called” leader should know this information. They should communicate it once a quarter at a minimum, and many do.
You may be thinking: “Wait a minute, I’ve seen lots of people manager’s at the top who have this information and they aren’t great leaders”….and you’d be right. There is a knowledge that is higher than facts and goals, and I mentioned it three paragraphs ago: They understand that it will be the employees who make it happen.
For any company to make it to the next level…you must have great people. “But what a minute,” you’re thinking, “you just said that great leadership isn’t determined by education or experience and since leaders are people too….how do you determine who is great?”
Luckily no one is born “great.” All of the people in your life who you consider “great” were not born that way. Ambition makes many “great” and circumstance plays a larger role. You might say that circumstance is merely perfume and it’s really ambition that does all the work, but you’re wrong here too. Like the good book says: “Time and chance happen to us all.”
So what do great leaders know that separates them from the herd? They know two things. 1) Your environment dictates circumstance and 2) Everyone has the potential to be “great.”
Bystanders would argue that great leaders have a disproportionate belief in people. They would say that great leaders believe in people and communicate that belief in such a way as to “inspire” those people. But I disagree. Great leaders know a few things about people. They don’t believe them. They know that people like to win and they like to be noticed. They know that if they create an environment where these two things can happen, it will bring success.
So if you’re reading one of those “how to” articles, just remember this: The person in charge of your people needs to understand that the majority of their people will never become great on their own. They will always sink to the minimum requirements you put in place….because why? Because they’re people.
So the person running the company (and it may be you) needs to understand that you have to create the opportunity for success. You also need to know that *not everyone* will rise to the circumstances you create. What you will achieve is this: A catalyst that brings real change, and it will be how you use this information that determines your success.