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3 Principles For Leaders Your Organization Can’t Live Without
“What can I do to help you do your job?”  This question is frequently asked by people in leadership as a way to communicate they care about what their employees need.  It helps a leader get a sense for what someone believes their job is and the resources they think are lacking, but it really doesn’t need to be asked.  In fact, good leaders can answer this question themselves because everyone needs three important things from those leading them.  Too often we think the most important things we can give the people in our organization are more resources, better technology, more manpower, etc. The truth is these are all secondary to the top three things every leader needs to give his or her subordinates.  In this brief article, I will explain what these three things are, why they’re important, and why we tend to shy away from giving them to people who work for us.

The first thing we can give our team members is trust.  We have to trust the individuals working for us because without trust we never establish a solid relationship with them.  If we can’t trust someone working for us then either we need to leave or they need to leave, but trust is a fundamental element of a good working relationship.  If we hired someone we have to trust our instincts that the person we hired is competent and able to do their job.  If we inherited an employee hired by another person before us we need to establish a connection with them and get a sense of whether or not we can trust them to do what needs to be done.  That might mean letting them make mistakes, mentoring them to improve the work they do or investing some of that precious time of ours into their professional development.  Whatever we have to do we need to find a way to trust them.  When people feel trusted they become more creative, try new things, and maintain an open honest communication.  For most of us, trust doesn’t come easy because it makes us vulnerable.  Trusting someone is making yourself vulnerable to the fact your instincts may be wrong about someone and that means you’re not a good judge of someone’s ability.  That can get translated into the negative belief that you’re not a good leader.  You have to be confident in who you are in order to trust others because trust is foundational for organizational success.

Next to trust the second thing a leader has to give to his or her subordinates is empowerment.  If you trust someone but never allow them to be empowered to make decisions, exercise their expertise, or shape the direction of their work, the trust you establish is never capitalized on and therefore all you have is a nice relationship without results.  Empowering people is a way the many voices of an organization become a type of musical choir singing the organizational chorus.  Everyone, in their own way and with their own talents gets to contribute to the organization when you empower employees.  Sure, everyone can’t just do what they want, that’s not how a choir functions.  Two people singing in two different keys are not making music, they're making noise.  However, when a tenor and a soprano sing their notes in their range along with a bass vocalist you have music.  Each contributes to the song in their own way, but they’re working toward a common complimentary sound.  If you’re the leader of an organization you have to empower each department and employee to contribute to the organizational song which is the vision and mission of the organization.  You already trust them; you know they can play their instruments, now empower them to make music.  You’re the director, the conductor of the symphony, so empower them to make music.  Good leadership trusts and empowers people in such a way they feel some level of ownership in what the organization is doing.  ALCOA, a large aluminum company found all over the globe is a great place to study how empowerment and trust can create significant payoffs.  In order to be one of the safest companies in the world, ALCOA empowered the people on their production lines and trusted them to decide if there was a safety hazard or something not right during production.  Alcoa employees could stop production on the spot if something didn’t seem safe. It didn’t matter if you were functioning as a laborer, a mid-level manager, or a plant supervisor, if you felt something wasn’t safe the company trusted you to stop production and address the problem.  That’s trust because if you understand how much money a company loses when production stops, you get a sense for what it means to trust and empower employees.  Because of this trust and empowerment, as well as a number of other factors, ALCOA has had some of the best safety records in their industry.  That’s pretty impressive.  Leaders shy away from empowering others because it means losing control.  It’s something leaders need to get over and recognize by empowering others we are exercising some of the most control and power a person can be trusted with.  Learn from ALCOA, empowering the people in your organization simply means extending your leadership reach into places you wouldn’t normally have access to.

Lastly, and perhaps even more important than the previous two ideas, a leader must inspire those they lead.  For many people what they do on a day by day basis can become routine and begin to lose meaning and purpose.  It’s human nature to get bored with tasks that are repetitive.  Leaders can’t let that happen.  Each day they need to inspire others to see the bigger picture.  They have to be an incarnation of the “Why” an organization exists.  People have to see that their leaders believe in the organizational mission, have captured the vision of the organization, and live by the values and ideas that reflect the reason the organization exists.  Leaders have to take the time to walk among the people they lead and inspire them to realize their everyday tasks are bigger than the work that feels empty and mundane.  In fact, the everyday mundane task of the leader is to remind other people what they do is not mundane or ordinary.  Leaders have to be inspirational.  Because the mundane work of leadership is to make organizational tasks inspirational people in leadership roles sometimes forget how important being inspirational is.  That can’t happen because leadership sets the tone for the whole organization.  People need to be inspired.

The next time you feel compelled to ask someone in your organization what you need to do to help them get their job done ask yourself first and foremost have I trusted these people, empowered these people, and inspired them.  Only after you’ve done these three things are the other potential resources you can give them going to be effective.  Without trust, empowerment, and inspiration you’re not leading a team you’re simply overseeing forced labor that will only do what’s necessary to get by and leave your organization the minute something better comes along.  Be the leader who can do so much more by trusting, empowering, and inspiring those you lead.
"In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations."
-From the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy

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