There’s been a lot of talk over the past ten years that leaders have to have a certain style in order to be successful. Actually, that kind of talk has always occurred, but different eras have different styles that are said to be the best way.
Don’t buy it.
Successful leaders use a wide variety of approaches to influence how people think. Some ask questions, some make bold statements, some are rough and tumble, some are planners and organizers.
Find your style that works best for you and then stick with it. Refine it over time and be better at it, but don’t try to be someone you’re not. That is one of the greatest mistakes of leadership, and it’s the one that will cause you to lose credibility the fastest.
In his book, Why We Do What We Do, Edward Deci wrote, “Motivation requires that people see a relationship between their behavior and desired outcome…If people do not believe that their behavior will lead to something they desire, they will not be motivated.”
I define motivation as having a motive for taking action. Motives might include the desire to deliver great performances, to earn significant incomes, and to be given unique recognition.
So how do business leaders demotivate people? When they micromanage, they don’t allow the employee to think and the performance becomes the boss’s and not the employee’s. When they demean or bully an employee, they rob the employee of the opportunity to feel good about his or her efforts. When they give out bonuses and pay raises to everyone, or deny everyone, across the board, they break the linkage between performance and reward.
It’s not enough for you to achieve great results as a business leader. You need to create an environment where motivated people can stay motivated. One of your main jobs is not to demotivate people.
Recently I received a link to an intriguing list of business novels that you may want to consider. Here’s the link.
As I studied the list, I began to think of my own favorite business novels. I agree on The Goal by Eli Goldratt, which I really enjoyed. I also enjoyed The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino, but I would add his books, The Choice and The Greatest Miracle in the World. I also really liked Ayn Rand’s books, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, which I would add to the list. While at times those stories were a bit bizarre, I found they both had really thought-provoking ideas. As far as really short business novels go, I enjoyed Gung Ho!. The challenge with the short novels is they don’t get much into the real complexities that managers deal with. They try to address a single concept, but managers don’t deal with a single situation at a time. They deal with complexities at home and at work that require attention in multiple ways.
I just read two really powerful novels: The Prince of Tides and South of Broad by Pat Conroy. They are not business novels, but they do force the reader to think about life in general and that can help to improve your ideas about business.
Leaders need to influence how people think. That’s where they make their greatest contribution. Often that happens by painting a vision of what the future can look like if they think differently. That’s the exciting and sexy part of leadership.
However, behind the creation and articulation of a compelling vision is a mountain of detailed work. The business leader meets with a wide range of people and observes situations for a long time before the vision crystallizes. Then there are the details of building relationships with key people in order to gain the support necessary to make the vision a reality. Then the leader has to think through what he or she will do in order to influence how other people will think.
I recommend the book “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.” by Clayborne Carson as a great example of detailed leadership. I think the book “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson is another good example of this.
If you are working with a new client, or even an existing one, or you have been promoted to manage a new group, or even a group that you have managed for a long time, take time to sit down with each person and really understand what is on their mind.
Whenever I work with a new client, I like to step into their world for a few days and really understand where they are at. My favorite approach is to interview 30-35 people for thirty minutes each by asking basic questions like, “What do you think is happening here that is effective, what do you think is ineffective, and what do you think would make it more effective?” I don’t write down anyone’s name. I just sit there and take notes for two days. Then I read the notes and patterns emerge that help me greatly in understanding the client. My second favorite approach is to watch them very closely as they do their actual work. This helps me to understand what challenges they face every day.
Spend a lot of time in trying to undertstand where people are at. It will greatly help you when you step into your actual day-to-day work with them.