Recently on LinkedIn I posed three questions that resulted in some very interesting conversations. Here they are:
- An executive is only a leader if people choose to follow. How can you tell whether people are following or just doing their job?
- Everyone says leadership is important, but why does it make a difference?
- If an executive produces a good bottom line are they a good leader?
I think the first question is one that most leaders rarely ask but should. Unless you understand and observe the distinction between people who are following and those just doing their job, it becomes easy to have the misconception that you are being effective as a leader, even though the reality may be quite different.
When people are just “doing their job”, they are essentially just doing enough work to keep their job. They’ll do what’s asked of them – but generally no more. They’ll do a good job performing their tasks and fulfilling their responsibilities – but nothing notable. They’re not argumentative or confrontational – but they’re not passionate either. Basically, they do a good job. But there’s a big difference between doing a good job and doing a great job.
In contrast, when people are following a leader, they become engaged and enthusiastic in their work. When a leader builds a team that is enthused and engaged, remarkable things happen. They take pride in their work and regularly strive to improve the efficiency and quality of their work. Instead of simply putting in the time to complete their tasks and fulfill their responsibilities, they make an effort to accelerate their progress, going the extra mile to be the best they can be and producing the best results. Apathy falls to the wayside and people begin to care – not only about the quality of their work, but in their ability to make a difference.
Rest assured, if your team is simply going through the motions, they’re just doing their job.
The second question – the one about why and how leadership makes a difference – is also an important question that rarely gets asked. I’ve reflected on the answer to this question for years and I’ve been able to distill it down to one simple statement. “Eliciting excellence is the essence of leadership.” A great leader doesn’t directly produce great results. Instead, they work to bring out the best in the people they lead who, in turn, produce great results.
The key then, is to understand how a leader accomplishes that. Bringing out the best in people is accomplished in a number of ways. I believe a key to eliciting excellence is to adopt a coach-like approach to leadership. This approach is one of listening and asking good questions. A leader who is committed to bringing out the best in people promotes independent thought and personal growth, creates opportunities to develop people to their fullest, respects each person (which in turn earns their respect), and develops a vision which attracts and aligns people.
The third question about whether someone is a good leader if they produce good results arose as a consequence of a comment made during one of the LinkedIn discussions. The commenter’s contention was that an executive’s responsibility was to produce the desired results for the shareholders and was therefore a good leader if they achieved those results. My issue with that perspective is that, although a leader is responsible for achieving the desired results, if those results are achieved at the expense of the team, then the effort and the results aren’t sustainable. Consequently, I don’t believe that just because an executive achieves results he or she is necessarily a good leader.
So then, how does one become a more effective leader? There are many factors that go into making someone a good leader, but here are some of the more important ones:
Integrity: Acting with integrity means doing what you say you’re going to do and being true to your stated values. Consistency of action creates trust and respect, which allows a leader to inspire, motivate, and influence.
Respect: Showing respect for others is essential. Human nature is to respect those who show respect for us. Without earning the respect of followers, leadership is ineffective.
Transparency: Being transparent means being who you say you are. We need to avoid putting on the façade of someone we’re not. People eventually see right through a façade and if they find a different person, we lose credibility.
Vulnerability: Being vulnerable means admitting when you don’t know the answer and/or when you’ve made a mistake. People respect someone who acknowledges their weaknesses along with their strengths.
Development: People appreciate being valued and appreciate when someone thinks highly enough of them to invest their time in developing them. When we invest in others it creates the feeling in them – almost an obligation – to invest in you and your vision.
In conclusion, most people will do a good job regardless of whether an executive is an effective leader. The art of leadership is getting people to be and do their best. Good efforts produce good results. Great efforts produce great results. The challenge we each have as leaders is to be mindful of how engaged and enthusiastic our team is, and then to be honest enough with ourselves to admit when the reality is less than we’d like.