Leaders must help employees find within themselves the vision to lead others
In our last column, the focus was on setting standards as highlighted in Truth No. 4 in 10 Truths About Leadership…..It’s Not Just About Winning: “Rules are for the Weak, Uncompromised Standards of Excellence are for the Strong.” I closed by asking the question, does everyone in your organizations have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, and are the standards of excellence clear to everyone?
The follow-up question is who is responsible for communicating these expectations and who owns them?
It’s a very challenging question and I’m convinced far too often both misunderstood and misapplied. We confronted this obstacle in our 13-year journey and labeled it “Management Driven Standards.” Until we transferred creation of the standards to those who have direct influence on the results, we continued to experience one of the many fall-outs of any top-down driven management style, the “I say, you do” approach to expectations. Whenever that flawed notion is applied, be it in a corporation, a volunteer organization or an athletic team it almost always guarantees organizational failure.
It’s further complicated by a bigger issue at the top of every organization: Greed.
The obsession with winning has permeated organizations from youth sports to Fortune top 100 companies. CEO’s and politicians are going to prison, professional athletes are more juiced than Florida and youth sports coaches and parents have twisted Vince Lombardi’s pep talks into an impossible standard for young people. This then begs the question: How do we avoid the trap of compromising our core values when pursuing “winning?” The answer resides in the behavior driven model, “The Leadership Pledge” and Truth No. 5, “Organizations will experience meaningful success when employees establish their own standards of performance.”
Until we displace the belief that leadership is restricted to a privileged few, we can’t get there. Everyone in the organization needs to believe that leadership is our most basic birthright. Leadership belongs to each of us. Therefore your organization will continue to struggle to achieve long term sustainable results until everyone is serious about creating an environment where winning and employees feeling valued, respected and part of something special are mutually inclusive.
How do we get there? The short answer to this very difficult challenge is ownership. If people own their area of responsibility and perform as if they have some skin in the game, they will approach constructing and completing their standards of excellence much differently. These standards now become their goal, their objective, their opportunity and ultimately their victory.
What appears to be difficult and certainly not mainstream is quite simple. First, you must accept my belief that leadership belongs to all of us. The essence of leadership is about making responsible choices.
Then the issue becomes how do we communicate this sense of ownership (leadership) within the organization? What role do we as leaders play in creating an environment where employees take responsibility for success and failure, not only for their respective work groups, but more importantly for themselves and each other?
Leaders need to act more like a teacher than a boss. They have to help employees confront difficult questions, issues and challenges as they seek the right answers. By focusing on behavior, leaders create an environment in which candidness, courage and caring about the company become every employee’s responsibility.
How do we do that? As leaders we must help our employees find within themselves the courage and clarity to lead others. This is central to organizational success.
This is where the magic begins. Great leaders create leaders, not followers. As we communicate our expectations of others, we influence their expectations of themselves. When we expect our employees to act and behave as leaders, they fulfill these expectations.
How powerful is peer to peer influence? I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of college athletes, and in particular, captains of varsity athletic teams. I’m constantly reminding them that the “C” on their chest does not stand for “Captain,” but rather “Courage” and that they have significant influence on their peers, more than anyone else, including their coaches, if and when they fully commit to a leadership role.
When we create an environment that encourages employees to find within themselves the courage to lead others, then and only then, will they understand that by shaping the destiny of the organization by taking ownership, they will in turn establish their own standards of performance.
You see, top performance belongs to everyone.
Pete Luongo is retired president and CEO of The Berry Co., Leader, Lecturer, Public Speaker and Author of “10 Truths About Leadership … It’s Not Just About Winning”. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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