Friday, November 13, 2009

Three Essentials of Leadership

"There are three essentials to leadership: humanity, clarity and courage."

-- Zen Lessons, Translated by Thomas Cleary

Part 1: Humanity

Humanity is not spoken of much in the corporate world. In my post "Leaders Look Bad" I stated that leaders have the courage to look bad, to show their humanity rather than attempt to cover up mistakes. By acknowledging their own blindspots, they can engage others in the cause to solve a problem. Attempting to put on a good front while things are falling apart will only assure disaster, rather than avert it (think Enron).

How many times have you heard someone say with admiration and a sense of pleasant surprise when speaking of a CEO or high-level executive, "She was so down-to-earth, very approachable." People appreciate leaders who don't let it go to their head. Conversely, people are repulsed by leaders they deem arrogant or of whom they say "wow, what an ego."

By force of will arrogant, egocentric leaders -- or more accurately stated, people who occupy a position of leadership -- can usually get compliance from subordinates, but little more than that. Few people are motivated to "go the extra mile" when they feel manipulated or subservient.

Remember, everyone is a volunteer. Ultimately, people do the work -- whether fully engaged or just doing the minimum requirement -- because they choose to. Therefore, understanding the hot buttons that will engage them fully -- some want work to be fun, others want a challenge or competition, while others may just see the present work as a means to attain a deeper life goal, or even just a mindless and relaxing way to get out of the house -- will be more effective than trying to get better performance through coersion (stick) or cheerleading (carrot).

If someone is in a job that won't touch their hot button, there is very little you can do to make them produce at a higher level. Think about it. If you're a "work must be fun" hot button person in a boring, repetitive job, you won't be productive; you'll do the minimum necessary while you look for a way out.

Knowing other's hot buttons, of course, requires knowing them at a deeper level. It requires paying attention. It requires being human. Because unless people feel comfortable talking to you, they won't reveal their inner motivations.

Being approachable might not be your natural style. Yet, if you don't learn to let down your guard, you'll miss some important cues that could lead to more productivity from those you lead.