In the past, it was probably enough to be a good manager, figuring out how to do more with less, “adding value,” making sure your customers and employees were satisfied – but, no more. It’s time to move beyond the mindset that every team member’s role, and yours, should be prescribed and you all simply subscribe to it. That way of thinking doesn’t ask much of our hearts or brains. It’s more of a clock-in/clock-out mentality: insert your job description into your head in the morning and eject it in the evening. Under that system, the job to be done is programmed for you.
That system had its place, but now our lives are far more exacting—and also more fascinating. Everyone can be a leader. In fact, individual leadership is an imperative!
The way is open for people to make an infinitely more significant contribution than they ever imagined they could. The mission is to achieve your own great purpose by helping others achieve theirs. The maxim now is meaning.
The leader’s job has changed fundamentally. The mental operating system is no longer “control” but “unleash.” It’s founded in purpose and principles instead of compliance and calculation.
Dee Hock, the innovative leader who created the Visa card, describes this mindset: “To the degree that you hold purpose and principles in common among you, you can dispense with command and control. People will know how to behave in accordance with them, and they’ll do it in thousands of unimaginable, creative ways. The organization will become a vital, living set of beliefs.”
Too much of the old mindset persists. Until we choose to be empathic, we’ll continue to lead from an inner core of indifference, but people know instinctively when they’re being stage-managed.
“Leaders are often tossed and turned,” Stephen R. Covey said. “Should they be more democratic or more autocratic? Firmer or more permissive? Tell more or ask more? What are the best techniques for getting things done through people? These questions are important and must be considered, but they are secondary questions.”
The key questions are:
- How much do you really care?
- Do you care enough to do what is required?
- Do you care enough to make the choice to be a leader, not just a job description?
- Do you care enough to help others become leaders?
- Do you care enough to unleash people to contribute infinitely more than you imagined they could?
- Do you care enough to execute your most important goals with excellence and precision?
- Do you care enough to become the most trusted of leaders?
- Do you care enough to help your customers succeed in their own great purposes?
These are the tough questions every leader must answer now.
But what if you don’t feel equal to the challenge? What if you’re afraid to make that choice because of the weight of organizational politics? “What will they say if I suddenly become proactive and visionary and empathic? How will they react if I start saying ‘no’ to things that don’t matter much so I can say ‘yes’ to things that do? What will happen if I question a strategy or policy that won’t help the client succeed? Will they even let me be a leader?”
Whoever “they” are, don’t worry about them.
More than a century ago, researchers at Clark University did an experiment with a walleye pike, a very aggressive fish. The researchers placed the pike in a large tank filled with water and added several minnows, the pike’s natural food, and watched as the fish immediately devoured the minnows. The researchers then placed a transparent glass divider in the tank with new minnows on one side and the pike on the other. Again the larger fish went after the minnows, this time hitting its head against the glass with each attempt. Eventually, the pike stopped trying to eat the minnows, having learned that the effort would only bring a sore head.
After three months, the researchers removed the glass barrier. Now there was nothing separating the predator from its prey. Yet even with the minnows now swimming all around the tank, the pike made no attempt to eat them. The pike would starve to death before trying to eat its favorite meal.
Such is the power of discouragement (or a sore head!). We may have tried and failed in the past, and because we learned that trying can occasionally bring failure and pain, we assume it will always be so.
Don’t believe it.
When you focus your energy on things you can’t control, your influence shrinks. You may still be worried about politics, about your position with this or that person or who’s getting pro/demoted or who’s up, down, or sideways. But this is debilitating thinking that will only diminish your capacity to contribute. By contrast, if you choose to focus your energy on the things you can do something about, your influence grows—often dramatically. You can’t control what others do; you can only hope to influence them. You contribute what you can instead of exhausting your energy in futile political games because your allegiance is to the principles, not to the players.
If you choose to focus your energy on the things you can do something about, your influence grows—often dramatically.
You will make mistakes: All leaders do. You may feel awkward at first, but if you persist, you will eventually feel the excitement of real growth in yourself, your team, and the bottom line.
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.