It’s kind of like the three bears’ beds, there are three ways to lead: one is too soft, one it too hard, but one is j-u-u-u-st right. The one that avoids conflict or ignores problems is too soft. The autocratic one – or the “off with their heads” one – is too hard. The manager who earns his team’s trust and respect through fairness and integrity turns out to be the just right leader. Which one are you? We are motivated to lead in many ways: through frustration with current leaders; through a will to “fix things;” or an inherent need to simply improve how a service is provided or fixing things that aren’t really broke. The best leaders are those who effectively remove the obstacles that their teams encounter.
My personal motivation comes from witnessing colleagues do it right and wanting to emulate that example of leadership within my own team. Another subtle motivation may be a catch phrase or some sage quote by some famous person, like:
“A successful man is one who can lay a solid foundation with all the bricks others have thrown at him.”
“Be who you are and say what you feel ‘cause people who mind don’t matter, and people who matter don’t mind.”
Theodor Suess Geisel
(You probably know this author by another name: Dr. Suess)
There are many ways to lead your organization to success, but there are exponentially more ways to fail and go backwards. How can you avoid this pitfall? Always follow through with a plan until it is completed to your satisfaction or until it fails (the plan, NOT you). Retired General Colin Powell’s style of leading was to listen to his adviser’s suggestions then figure out what felt like the best approach and, right or wrong, stick to the objective until he achieved the goal. If something happens you didn’t plan for, adapt, overcome it, and charge on. If it fails, start over with a new plan but never quit. Because General Powell trusted his team, there were probably several who would have taken a bullet for him. If anyone starts criticizing your team, you need to be that person taking that bullet…
If you never fail, how can you or your team know where the limits are? We’ve all heard the saying “two heads are better than one.” Think how much better the dozen or so heads on your team are if you have created a culture of trust. Don’t be afraid to ask suggestions from your team about a challenging project. An unknown author said: “He who does the job knows the job best; trust the people you hired to do the job.” Trust your team to suggest strategies and/or obstacles you may not have anticipated. Then you must lead by decisively picking the direction the team will take, and you must define to the team the goals along the journey. Here’s where follow-through is so important. Don’t let the project die on the vine. If I may quote Rocky Mountain Fleet Management Association (RMFMA) member Craig Croner, City of Boise, “Regularly inspect what you expect from your team.”
Each of us must find our own style of leading. My advice would be regularly networking with your peers every chance you can. Attend every industry-related conference, meeting, and training event you can and glean whatever motivation you can from your colleagues’ success. There is no such thing as a “stupid question.” ‘Cause those that mind – don’t matter, and those that matter – don’t mind.
“You can’t go through life with one foot on the brake. Release your fear of failure, of not achieving excellence, be excited about the challenge, and release the brake!”