A close friend of mine was recently killed in a tragic accident. All of us experience sudden tragedies in our lives and somehow when the shock is added to the grief, it’s even harder to deal with. This article though is not about death or grief. Candidly, those things are not within any sort of expertise I possess. This article is about leadership.
As we were gathered at the funeral home, mourning the loss of my friend Robert, I heard someone who reported to him at work say that it would be difficult to replace him, because he wasn’t just a boss, he was a leader. That thought stuck with me through the several days that followed and it occurred to me that while many people are challenged to describe exactly how they want leaders to behave, and those opinions are often quite different, most people know when they have been in the company of someone who has made a difference for them. They know when their lives are somehow better because of their interaction with that individual. That’s the essence of leadership.
Leaders often stand out because they accomplish tasks, achieve goals, and drive growth. When you hear anyone describe a leader though, they don’t necessarily mention those things. Those things are simply the natural results that follow in the footsteps of real leadership. Leaders drive results because they inspire, motivate, support and help others. Leaders cause people around them to accomplish more. Success is the result but leadership is the focus.
No one described the tasks Robert accomplished when remembering him that day, or even the success he achieved. They talked about how he helped them become better, supported their efforts, created a fun place to work, or even just how he shared part of his own life with them. They talked about what mattered to them not in a monthly or quarterly sense, but it a sustainable, lasting way. Leadership isn’t about monthly or quarterly things. It’s about causing change that lasts, even beyond the leader’s ability to directly influence it. It caused me to think about how those people Robert touched are better today because of him, even though he’s not around to help them any more. Leadership is a pretty impressive thing.
In my job I get to work with leaders every day. I get to see what works and sometimes what doesn’t. I can’t ever recall a leader who drove a change in organizational culture, made a lasting difference, or caused people to step up and achieve more, who didn’t focus on the people they interacted with more than the results they wanted. Don’t misunderstand me, results are important. Results are how we keep score, how we measure growth and how we share what’s possible. But we get them by focusing on the inputs, not the results themselves. The inputs are those things that matter the most to the people who have the capability to directly drive the results.
As you think about becoming the leader who can do all of these things, and achieve incredible results, make sure that you are spending your time focused on the inputs. Think about what you can do to cause others to want to engage more fully, to encourage others to take more accountability, to build an organizational culture where people want to do their best. A focus on those things cannot cause anything but a more impressive set of results. Results are what we look back at, potential is what we look forward to.
Lot’s of us are going to miss Robert. He taught me, and many others, about the value of balancing work with fun. He was one of those people who made a difference for those around him and when people gathered to remember him, they called him a leader. Many of us aspire to that. Even though his time here was shorter than most, Robert got there.