Category Archives: Visionary Leadership
Over the weekend I came across a series of content by a leadership author who heavily discounted what they would proclaim as so-called leadership experts.
As I mulled over their claims, I realized how many people in higher levels of leadership discredit others because their credentials don’t seem to be to their standards.
Let’s calibrate our understanding of what experts are:
- a person having a high level of knowledge or skill in a particular subject (Cambridge Dictionary)
- having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
We should also review the definition of a leader:
- a person who manages or controls other people, esp. because of his or her ability or position (Cambridge)
- a person who leads (Merriam-Webster)
It is essential here to point out that in none of these definitions (or others) is there a criteria for PhD’s, MBA’s, being on a board of directors, authoring books, teaching at universities or needing any other qualifying experience or education.
Unfortunately people who look down on others in this fashion tend to do so from an aura of superiority, resting on their own laurels. Experientially these people tend to be the least teachable and most difficult to create an engaged team that will trust and rally around them. They place themselves in a position of higher criticism and use their sole judgement to assess who is worthy of credibility.
And what these folks do is exhibit the same poor leadership behaviors that they denounce in their content. They place roadblocks into building another person up or giving them a platform for voice and value in what they know.
Here are some real-life situations in which someone has discounted another’s opinion because it didn’t meet the person’s prejudices:
- Engineering experts who told Henry Ford his V8 engine idea was impossible
- A restaurant executive who discounts others input because no one who is not a chef can talk about food at their knowledge level
- Critics of Gary Vaynerchuck simply because he struggled in school and just rants about social media
- Tenured university professors who discount the education and real-life experience of adjunct faculty
- Football leaders and experts discounting Tom Brady in their scouting report
- Leaders of all kinds of levels and organizations who devalue the input of front line managers
Leaders and experts don’t need to have letters behind their name or have high-level positions.
As I have mentioned before, teenagers and the person you meet in everyday life can be effective leaders. All someone needs to be an expert is experience and the application through study and practice of their daily sphere.
The greatest experts in the field of leadership will tell you lifting others up, giving them value and a voice, and offering them a platform to showcase their talents is what true leadership is about.
Being an expert and leader is more than just letters after a name. It’s about the application of real-life principles to teach, lead and positively influence your sphere.
Keeping employees engaged is similar to the process of using a balance scale.
On a balance scale, if you place weights more on one end than the other the scale will tip towards the heavier side. Employee engagement is very similar.
Envision the scale with two distinct balances on either side – one is engagement and one is disengagement. Each side has has a weight that can only be placed on one side – one weight is positive impact on your people (engagement), and the other is negative impact on them (disengagement).
Each organization has an employee engagement scale, but so does each team and each individual.
The overall goal of leadership is to weight the scale so heavily on the positive engagement side, with virtually no negative on the other balance. However the delicate nuance is to understand each individual’s scale and ensure their engagement side is properly weighted.
The challenge is to understand the principles of negativity and employee disconnect, and how any negative actions, including yours, are counted on the employee’s scale.
Negative impacts to your staff almost always outweigh the positive.
It takes a large amount of positive to offset negatives when they do occur.
Unlike weights on a physical scale which has constant density, employee engagement has variable weights based on the dynamics of the individuals and basic human principles of interaction. Consider the following variables:
- Positives are lighter while negatives weigh more
- Negatives can vary in weight from individual to individual
- More than one positive is needed to offset negatives
- Small and seemingly normal positives may not outweigh negatives
- Both weights have varying degrees of visibility – positives need to always be visible (public and tangible); negatives are usually invisible and hard to discern as many leaders are blinded to them
- Negatives gain increasing weight over time (distrust grows) where smaller negatives can carry an enormous weight
- Staff Appreciation Days, Thank You cards and Employee of the Month programs are good positives, but are too infrequent to offset constant year-round negatives
Some items that are heavier positives:
- Sincere apologies
- Concrete actions to correct poor leadership
- Increased valuation of a person
- More voice
- Public praise and apology
- Deferred leadership role, showing trust for your people to showcase their talents
While not an exhaustive list, these examples show the intricacies of how mindful leaders need to be in creating a culture of total engagement.
By gaining more awareness of the correlation of negative and positive weights that get placed on an employee engagement scale, you can create a better leadership style that puts more positive engagement weights and builds a deeper and more committed team in your organization.
There have been myriads of articles and posts written about how leaders can best build commitment and a culture of trust among their employees. Many of those methods are proven and well-studied.
But one thing often missed is a need for leaders to drive deeper into themselves and promote a behavioral leadership style that fosters connection, commitment, and engagement.
Below are 6 behavior mindset changes that leaders need to change within themselves before they change the level of trust in their organization.
- Trust Your People First. I had a business owner who was severely challenged with staffing tell me the reason she couldn’t get employees was that she didn’t trust anyone. She was shocked when I told her she was correct and wrong at the same time. Numbers of studies show how employees want trust from their leaders. Placing the trust in your people first will usually work to get them engaged – it never happens the other way around.
- Don’t Play Favorites. Leaders who ignore others, such as spending most of their time with the coolest or the people making the numbers happen, divide their teams silently and quickly. When people feel detached because they aren’t part of the “inner circle” they distrust leadership and many think you have to be unethical in order to get attention or feel valued.
- Don’t Assume Fault. Over the years I worked for a leader whose favorite response to any situation was “Who’s fault is that?” A question like this always placed people on the defensive, and assumed a failure on that person’s behalf. Moving away from a fault-finding mindset into a mindset of turning bad circumstances into opportunities to win long-term, change processes, or develop skills will have your people fighting for you when things go bad, instead of fleeing from you.
- Know That They May Know More Than You. I had a former colleague say that they had been embarrassed about a boss showing them up by stating how little my friend knew in front of others and proceeded to talk about something they did not really know much about. My colleague told me the boss was actually the one who embarrassed themselves because everyone present saw the puffed-up leader make a fool of themselves. It did more to harm the trust of the staff as they felt they too would be next on the public embarrassment stage. Give your people the platform to showcase what they know and then stay out of their way to prove it.
- Don’t Assume Ill Intent. Many times when an employee has an issue the first thing certain leaders do is to assume that the person isn’t committed, or going rogue, or being a saboteur. When leaders know that performance issues usually stem from lack of trust in leadership, systems, or culture, then you can take steps to correct those external forces that negatively impact employee performance. It’s another aspect of trust that needs to be present in mind at all times.
- Find Ways To Always Train Them Up. Whether subtly or overtly, leaders who tear down staff in front of others will not produce leaders or employees who do the same in others. When a great leader focuses on every opportunity to train and develop, consistent with the other behaviors listed, a culture of trust is solidified in which true business growth can then foster. By finding ways to train instead of criticize, people around you will adopt a development mindset that attracts employees and brings out their best for you.
Over the years I have noticed that the best leaders consistently exhibit all of these traits without wavering. Those that have swung on both ends of the spectrum in any of these behaviors showed a much higher degree of employee mistrust.
Changing the level of commitment from employees means changing the level of trust first. This can only be done by changing your leadership mindset in how you approach and view any and all of your people to begin with.