Leadership Isn’t About You


I was working with a business leader recently who asked me the question, “why won’t my people do what I want”?  The answer is relatively simple: because people do what they want.  If what they want and what you want is in conflict, guess who loses every time?  The challenge of leadership is to create an environment where people want to do what’s best for the team or the business.   It’s an easy sentence to write, it’s a challenge to execute.

It’s not about you

It is interesting how many managers and leaders start conversations with me about what they want, and often what they want as a manager is more about their own feelings and expectations than it is about what’s best for the business or the team.

Managers say things like “I expect them to respect me” or “I want them to listen more to what I tell them”.  What I hear sometimes is more about how the manager feels personally than what the business needs to be successful.  If you are a leader, this isn’t about you.  It’s difficult, but the reality is that your feelings, your ideas, your wants are irrelevant.  If your mission isn’t about helping them perform better, accomplish more and deliver more value, but more about making you feel better about how they treat you, you will always struggle to become a successful leader.

People only commit to things they believe in

If you have a new initiative, idea, process or system that you think would help the business be better then don’t devise a plan to implement it and then roll it out – also known as telling them what to do.  That only guarantees that you believe it in, not that your team does.  Toss the idea out for conversation and collaboration.  Be okay with the fact that they might change it and possibly even improve it.  Just know that your team will implement their idea much better than they will implement yours.  This doesn’t mean that business becomes a democracy.  Rather, your job is to lay out the guidelines for success and let them help shape the rest of the plan so it is something they believe in, contribute to and care about.  When was the last time you committed fully to something you didn’t believe in or even fully understand?

Don’t take shortcuts with commitment

Often, what I see happen is that managers spend weeks or even months thinking through a new strategy or idea, maybe even in senior leadership meetings, and then they communicate the new path and expect people to jump on board and execute it well.  Those little breaks from reality can be refreshing, but you can’t run a business or a team that way.  When we do that, we are assuming that an idea that took us weeks to think through, formulate, ponder and consider will be understood in minutes by others, sometimes based on an email or a memo even.  Either we believe they are much quicker and smarter than we are, or this is unrealistic.  People need time to consider an idea, wrestle with the challenges, decide on their belief in it and their commitment to it.  Wishing we could save time and take a shortcut by communicating an initiative in a well thought out email is the downfall of many managers.

If you want people to move in a different direction, change their behavior, or implement a new way of working, let them think about it, talk about it, challenge it and then commit to it.  This is how we get there.  And it’s how they do as well.  Leadership is about influence, not instructions.  We don’t follow others because we are told to, we follow, ultimately, because we want to.

Leading Through Influence

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