How do we measure leaders? By the results they produce. It’s as simple as that. This may be a harsh standard, but it’s also a fair one.
Not all leaders grasp this. I’ll share an anecdote that affirms this truth.
Years ago, I coached a U.S. Navy captain aspiring to become a rear admiral.
Here was an incongruity worth exploring. “Tell me about this perception that you lack leadership skills,” I said. “What do you think, perception is based on?”
He replied: “My people are absolutely terrible. They just don’t perform.”
The captain was looking at leadership from one angle, and in doing so, he had lost sight of something all too obvious.
Leadership doesn’t come down to instruction. It comes down to engagement. When you engage and motivate your team members to work as a community, with cooperation and purpose, you lay the groundwork to win. If you merely tell them what to do and then retreat to your office, you set yourself up to lose.
The fundamental fact is, if your company, organization, or team doesn’t perform, it’s a commentary on your leadership. Always.
Even the best leadership can occasionally become ineffective. When this happens, what is the right course of action? What can you do if you fail to connect with your people, or if your people fail to perform?
Three Types of Leaders
For argument sakes, let’s say there are three different leadership types in this scenario. Your choice reflects both your character and your emotional intelligence.
They look at underperforming employees and think: What is wrong with them? I am stuck with bad peoples. Taking a top-down perspective, they convince themselves that getting rid of bad people in subordinate positions will solve things. Usually, it won’t.
These leaders look in the mirror. They think: “What happened? What did I do wrong?” Sure, they aren’t blameless when it comes to their organizations falling short of KPIs or other goals. They willingly shoulder the criticism when those they lead miss the mark. They aren’t really asking themselves the right questions, though.
These leaders think: “Why didn’t they respond? Why was it not important to them? How could I have related better to them? How can I improve?” That’s where great leaders go. Instead of writing people off, instead of hanging their heads in shame, they realize that they are an instrument: their body language, their expressions, their mannerisms, their words all combine to convey a message. If that message isn’t compelling, then people won’t respond to it – and it needs adjusting.
Great leaders recognize the difference between responsibility and absolute responsibility. It is no minor distinction.
When bad leaders think “responsibility”, they think in terms of blame. They point the finger at others, hoping to take heat off themselves.
When emerging leaders think “responsibility”, they think in terms of shame. They beat themselves up and put on a hair shirt when their organizations miss their objectives.
Great leaders simply own it. They own the outcome, and they own the situation. They realize that if they want things to be different, they can’t change other people; all they can do is change themselves. They study how their team or organization fell short, they realize this presents a learning experience, and instead of drenching themselves in guilt or exasperation, they ask themselves how they can improve.
When your people fail to perform, ask yourself these four questions. In answering them, you can find ways to adjust your messaging and promote better results.
- How can I better align the organization’s objectives with the purpose(s) of my people? Look for any signs of dissonance. Look for leadership, managerial, and organizational factors that may promote that dissonance. Address this with the direct involvement of the people you lead.
- How can I improve my relationships with my people so that they want to perform better? The difference between a great, supportive workplace and an uninspiring, humdrum workplace can come down to this. Should you change how you interact with those you lead? Can you affect this change in a way that feels organic, rather than awkward?
- What was my communication strategy, and how could it have been improved? The style of your communication is so important. How do you come across? Could your communication style be seeding anxiety and uncertainty around the office? Could you change the quantity and quality of your communication to appear more invested in the well-being of your people?
- How could we improve our overall strategy and implementation? As referenced earlier, great leaders own not only their individual actions, but also the outcomes and situations of their companies or organizations. So as you examine the message you convey to those you lead, look also at the message your company or organization conveys, both in-house and in the world. How could you make it more engaging? How well are you delivering it?
Great leaders are frank with themselves. A great leader understands that he or she is an instrument, and makes adjustments when necessary to maintain a positive influence and create positive change.
Peter Montoya is the best-selling author of “The Brand Called You” and his latest books, “Meetings Without Walls” & “Leadership Power”. He’s also a sought-after and highly motivational keynote speaker and leadership development strategist, specializing in developing high-performance teams. To find Peter, visit www.PeterMontoya.com or call (949) 334-7070.