Who is the first leader you remember? When I looked up “leader” in the Thesaurus, the one that caught my eye was “father”. That’s what I think about when I think about a leader; my dad. A father – a LEADER – protects, inspires, and communicates with those in his care.
I don’t believe that people just wake up one day and become a leader. Just like parenting, we have to be taught these skills. We have to teach those skills, as well. Former Vice Chairman of Walmart, the late Don Soderquist, said a long time ago; “Mentor your leaders; assume they know nothing about professionalism and integrity. Teach them before they fail. Tell them where they stand, let them know – (observe them, articulate to them, then observe them some more).”
Nurture Your Team
I believe all this boils down to understanding our strengths, which is a combination of talent, skill, and knowledge. Then, we must understand the strengths and desires of our employees. We have to take a genuine interest in the current and future lives of our team. Leadership requires observing and listening, so you will know what needs nurturing and what needs courage.
Former CEO of Walmart, Mike Duke said, “Look at every team member you are responsible for and help them seize their day”. Here’s a more appropriate quote in today’s environment; “In this high-tech world, high touch is just as important.”
I hope that we have all worked for a leader that has inspired us. If you haven’t, then I hope that someday soon you will. For those of us that have, do you remember how productive you were? As a leader, we must serve with a passion and a sense of urgency. We must teach a sense of urgency in everything we do. Not a sense of emergency, a sense of urgency. There is a big difference.
With all of that, it’s important to understand that our job is also to protect and/or buffer our folks from what gets handed to us. This means buffering them from the tough stuff that we might get handed. No matter how good we are, there will be a time when we get in trouble. It’s OUR job to take it. The one the calls the shots, takes the shots. Leaders don’t blame, they learn.
We also have to ensure that our team understands how their role fits with the greater direction of the company. We have to share with them where the company is going. Make sure you are getting the information you can share down to them.
There are many obligations and responsibilities we have as leaders, but I believe it gets narrowed down to three things:
- You must respect your people and show them respect. This doesn’t mean you don’t have difficult conversations. In fact, having those conversations is respect. Taking time to let everyone know they are crushing it, or not, is the right thing to do.
- Being a leader means that you are in service. You are in service to your team, your customers, and your company. Again, it’s not your position, it’s your actions. If your team sees you serving them, your community, and others, then they will follow your example.
Pursuit of Excellence
- We won’t be excellent at everything we do, nor will our people, but that doesn’t give us a reason to not aim for it. Whether you are rolling out a new product for your customers or implementing a new program for your company, set out to achieve the most excellent results. You’ll be surprised what you can get done. My Dad used to tell me to not do things “half-assed”. This sticks with me. There’s another saying that I remember from a long time ago, “Beware the lollipop of mediocrity. One lick and you suck forever.”
When we are cultivating leaders to run a company, we have to listen. We have to learn. We have to learn to change.
Leadership happens 24 hours a day. Your team will remember you at your lowest moment, so protect your reputation as a leader. A leader’s responsibility to the team is to help them grow and mature into great leaders.
Things a leader needs to remember:
- Be an advocate for your team members.
- Stand up for them.
- Challenge them and challenge FOR them.
- Constantly ask yourself, do you care?
- Are my team members doing what they like?
- Do I thank them?
Here’s my parting thought. Be what you say you are and do what you say you’ll do. That’s leadership.