“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: ‘we did it ourselves’.”
“Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”
There is very little incentive to develop leadership skills.
Conventional leadership in business and entrepreneurship comes with more responsibility, more accountability, and more to lose. To compensate for these hardships, elevated positions usually include pay increases, stock options, and other shiny objects to distract you from the longer hours you will be working and the larger amounts of crap you will be eating.
Everyone wants a bigger paycheck but few people want to contribute more of their time or energy towards obtaining it. Why? You might be thinking, “because most people are lazy”, but that’s a lazy answer. Let’s ask a better question: why aren’t these people inspired to be leaders? Ironically, the answer is bad leadership. Very few people jump at the opportunity to lead because so many of them have been under the command of awful leaders. Why would anyone aspire to be someone they had no respect for, or worse, despised?
Ineffective leadership is an epidemic in today’s world, mostly due to society’s reliance on power as a motivational tool. Power, or authority, breeds only three things: fear, resentment, and bare-minimum results. Yet, authority is still the gold standard method by which most leaders attempt to motivate their subordinates. From elementary school to corporate career, the fear of being scolded, failed, or fired by an authority figure has been used to motivate you. The problem is that fear, no matter how productively it is channeled, is debilitating. Fear, by its very nature, saps passion and creativity.
Fear is fertile soil for resentment. People do not cherish a leader that uses fear to motivate them; instead, they look for subtle ways to undermine or sabotage their leader’s pursuits. Most commonly, this is accomplished by decreasing productivity to just above the “you’re fired” level.
No one can be forced to be inspired. Relying on power to influence motivation is flawed because it forces an external agenda on a person rather than inciting an internal spark within a person. Threats will only work in the short term and will eventually rouse a revolt. Likewise, financial incentives lose their effectiveness in the long term. This is due to the law of diminishing returns. There is a point at which additional incentives don’t really induce a greater quality of work from people. Both external threats and external incentives will eventually fail. Neither carrots nor sticks are effective.
Lead with influence. Influential leaders ignite a spirit of excitement and enthusiasm in their subordinates. These leaders figure out how to develop others personally. Personal development is the absolute best way to influence motivation and develop leadership skills in other people. By helping your subordinates grow and expand personally, they begin to feel more passionate about life, people, and their jobs. They generate confidence and find ways to enjoy life more. And this inspires them to contribute more.
People want to improve. They want to get better at something; they want to increase happiness and enhance their lives in some way. Whether their goal is wrapped up in making money, promoting a charity, or building a purpose driven business, people have a deeply rooted desire to grow. Even Buddhist monks are trying to be more enlightened. Even nihilists are trying to be better nihilists.
Every person has a passionate desire to feel better about himself. An effective leader taps into this desire. I interviewed colleagues and friends who have successfully managed hundreds of Fortune 500 employees and asked them to distill down their methods of leadership into 3 key principles. Here are 3 Fortune 500 leadership tips for top dogs:
1. Handholding ends after high school.
“Many leaders who claim to lead by example tend to show too much. If I blatantly spell out the captivating headline that I want my group to put on their presentation slide, the slide is good, but the employees are no better. Send your people back to the drawing board multiple times if they do not give you what you want, but let the final product come from them. It is impossible to generate confidence in your employees while micromanaging them. Also, be constructive with your criticism and be clear with your expectations. Express ‘what success looks like’ and why their output has fallen short. Encourage them to take chances. To be the world’s best author you don’t have to be the best writer. You have to be the best re-writer. Overall, guide your employees but let them become great on their own.”
2. Be a base and a bridge.
“Have time for your employees. If you expect a lot from them, they need to know that you have their back. Be your team’s base, but also be a bridge to connect them. The most efficient and effective way to do this is to have an hourly conference call with your people once a week. Spend the first 15 minutes reviewing your expectations and ‘what success looks like’ and spend the last 45 minutes discussing what you can do to help them succeed that week. Be sure to express to them that your bosses calibrate successful managers as those who get their people promoted. This way they know that your success depends on their success. If your people only fear you, they will contribute just enough to not get fired. But if they believe you are working with them and for them, they will run through walls for you.”
3. Sensationalize your position.
“Have you ever looked at a boss or manager and realized, ‘I do not want to be that person one day’. Tell me, how motivated are you to follow that individual? Those who look to you for leadership should perceive your work life as challenging, exciting and containing certain elements of ‘cool’. Bring your team in on your business. For example, articulate the specifics of a meeting where you had successful negotiations. Set the stage. Name drop titles. Reveal the stakes. Simplify complexities. Have a punch line. State the results. Glorify the win.
With their side feeling disrespected, I looked the VP in the eye and said, ‘Our intention was to hug you, then slap you. You delivered us record growth last year, and we come to you now with a price increase. We value our current partnership, but this commodity driven environment calls for slimmer unit margins on your end. If you want to win, you know you have to do it with us.’ Silence came over the room, but I didn’t blink. After 30 seconds of dead air, I mentioned to him that while making a lower margin percent, increased velocities would allow him to make more penny profit. I closed with, ‘You can’t take a percentage to the bank’. He smiled, conceded with a subtle head nod and shook my hand. We’re now looking at an incremental $3M in Q4.
Sharing this story with your people does two things, it brings everyone closer and it creates enthusiasm. Learn to tell stories that your employees actually want to hear. Make them want your job. Show them why business and entrepreneurship is fun. Communicate details with excitement and intrigue. Create an action movie rather than a textbook.”