Every once in a while, a truly special player comes along.
There are extremely gifted athletes that step onto the stage of public awareness every season, in every sport. Their talent is unquestioned, their artistry undisputed. Rarely do you find one that is able to be bigger than the game itself. The highest echelon of basketball stardom is to be known by one name.
Larry. Magic. Michael. Kobe. Lebron.
While watching a SportsCenter highlight of my beloved Kentucky Wildcats featuring John Wall throwing an alley-oop pass to Patrick Patterson, it struck me that the great ones make it easy for others to “just play.” Individual ability combined with a knack for putting teammates in good positions allows everyone around them to be better. Patterson was an immense talent before, yet is nearly a whole new player now.
Are you on that level?
One of the most underrated skills in life is leading. Many have positions with authority, but do they really lead? Do they understand the work necessary to comprehend the motivation of their “subordinates” or do they instead hammer their minions with an iron fist?
In order to direct others effectively, whether a thousand-man battalion or three-person team, you must do five simple things:
By outlining the specifics of your relationship from the beginning, you’ve created a strong foundation for future achievement. All parties must understand what the other is looking for–yes, your people get to ask something of you–and the policies in place to foster accountability. Starting this way facilitates communication further down the line and helps the dreaded “unspoken rule” from destroying your endeavor from the inside.
If these expectations are unmet, there must be agreed-upon steps acknowledge the fact and correct it.
To be truly excellent, every member of your group must have an emotional drive for hitting the target beyond just earning a paycheck. Set the goal in front of everyone and provide minimal parameters (deadlines for goals and micro-goals, customer wants, etc.), then pose a simple question:
“What ideas do you have for making this happen?”
There is colossal psychic value in making contribution to a problem’s larger solution and engaging the creativity of your crew in this way is a major deposit in their “energy bank” for times when the challenge seems most daunting.
Encourage openly, criticize privately
This is a paraphrase of a famous quote by the Russian tsarina Catherine II. Making public statements of gratitude is a phenomenal way to lift the esprit de corps, whether talking to one or all.
More importantly, “blame quietly” by taking your thoughts directly and respectfully to the individual in question. Commenting behind the person’s back undermines your credibility between the ears of those listening. Even in the case of shared sentiments, somewhere the brain will hear your words and wonder: “What’s being said about me when I’m not around?”
The idea is to give each individual the proper amount of freedom to do their best work. Encouraging them to be self-sufficient–prodding them only as required–develops the confidence for taking charge in other situations as each person is disseminated across the organization (or to other companies) as a result of your collective achievement.
Share credit, accept blame
Put your ego aside. During setbacks you must shoulder the burden alone and without excuses. The people you report to think it’s all your fault anyway. Here’s a shock: they’re right. Like it or not, your decisions are at the root of the results. Sometimes you’ll bite off more than can be chewed and others you’ll distribute the workload in a way that’s less than optimal considering your staff’s talents. (There will always be superstars and stragglers, divide accordingly.) Perfecting this chemistry is the cornerstone of being in charge.
By contrast, when things go well, make sure the praising party speaks to everyone, if possible. The effort involved many hours by several people. Let them bask in the glory, too, and they’ll work even harder for you next time.
There is a very basic truth I’ve seen many places: “In order to lead, you must get behind your people.” Investing the effort in elevating them will make you look–and feel–better. Empower them to squeeze the best out of themselves and reach heights beyond their own imaginations spreads the legacy of your stewardship into the world forever.
What are you doing to churn out more leaders?