SIMPLE TRUTH #3: People want Leaders to lead

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One of my favorite sayings is “Leadership is not about you. It’s about them.” I like it because it focuses on the fact that leaders have followers. Followers are willing individuals who choose to follow because they believe the leader is going somewhere or doing something they, too, would like to experience. On any given day, your following can be large or small depending on your actions and words. SIMPLE TRUTH #3: People want Leaders to Lead.  

Years ago, I was at an off-site management meeting where the leader had planned for us to go hiking after we’d been sitting and listening to presentations the first half of the day. He’d been to the location before, but none of the rest of us had.  So, when he swiftly walked off leaving us behind, we were unclear as to which way we should go when we encountered a fork in the path.

I had been coaching the executive for a couple months by that time and I laughed out loud because the situation was indicative of his leadership behaviors in the office. He often went off on his own believing he had to solve all of the organization’s problems. Many times, he believed he had given directions to people but actually he had never uttered them out loud to anyone.  The team had voiced frustrations with his leadership style, so it was not surprising that we stopped at the fork in the path that day on our hike.  Collectively, we tested our leader to see how long it would take for him to notice we were no longer following him.  When he came back loudly yelling expletives at us, one of the more outspoken of the team said, “You didn’t make it clear where we were going, or even if we were supposed to come along with you.”

Successful leaders need to know that followers have expectations of them. Articulating direction and plans for an organization is not a one-time, once-a-year, or even once-a-quarter event.  Your people want you to stand in front of them often — communicating vision, current state of business, any changes in direction and what the consequences are when milestones are not met.  When you lead without understanding your follower’s expectations, human behaviors in your organization are negatively impacted.

Just like the management team was at the fork in the path that day on our hike, without a regular infusion of direction from you, your people are unsure of what needs to happen next. Their productivity stalls while they wait for it — or they take action without direction which may result in work having to be redone later when clear information is forthcoming. Both are frustrating to your employees, cost you time and money and make your organization ineffective.

Your people expect you to engage with them. You need to be personally involved and physically present in the daily operations of your organization. They want you to regularly walk among them, ask their opinions and listen to their ideas.  You spend a lot of time, energy and money hiring smart people who have solutions to many of the problems in your organization; yet, you don’t spend enough time collecting these insights from them and putting them to use. You don’t have to solve all the problems alone.  Remember SIMPLE TRUTHS #1 & 2.

Two things to note here: 1) When I use the term direction, I do not mean that your employees expect you to direct them by telling them what to do or how to do their jobs. They know what to do. What they want is for you to provide the bigger picture vision, the long view of what the outcome is to be (e.g. “We need to complete and launch product X by Y date to stay on our strategic course.”) 2) You also don’t have to determine exactly how your organization will reach your vision because your employees want to help you determine that.  If you provide clear vision and direction, your people typically know how to line up their talent and energy with them in order to be successful.

Another expectation followers have of leaders is that there are consequences for not meeting, or exceeding performance expectations. In general, most people are – and want to be – accountable.  Where many companies fall short, is the lack of leadership ability to set clear performance measures, in addition to, establishing appropriate consequences. You spend huge amounts of time creating strategy and tactical goals and objectives; but, many leaders don’t typically determine what will happen when the goals aren’t met. You lose your most talented followers when you state the goal is X and then you allow under-performing individuals to lag behind without consequences.

By being clear about where you want to go, what you want your employees to spend time on and modeling conscious behaviors and actions, you have a huge impact on the behaviors of your people.  You will have followers if you:

  • Provide direction (and remember, this doesn’t mean telling people what to do – or how to do their jobs),
  • Walk among your people in all areas of the business to regularly talk and listen to what they have to say,
  • Drive accountability behaviors that include having consequences and applying them consistently.

People Matter in Business.

Cindy Goyette, SPHR – Maximizing Human Capital, Inc. 2014

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