Leaders Fuel the Organization’s Fire

The flame of a candle will go out in the wind, but the wind will feed the flame of fire.  Leaders of organizations need to understand the balance of the people.  We must do our best to build organizations that are full of people that can not only withstand the wind, but that thrive on it.

So, what is the wind in this metaphor? It is different for everyone, but for most people, it is probably constructive criticism.  The key word in that phrase is “constructive,” which means, “helping to improve; promoting further development or advancement.”  If you are scolding or just unloading your frustrations on your people, this is not constructive criticism.  Be specific about what is not meeting the mark and help them understand how to move forward.  If they are emotional, get through the initial emotional meeting and follow up later for a more level-headed conversation.  Time usually brings perspective, and even if you didn’t see eye-to-eye at the time, it would likely be a more relaxed conversation the second time around.  At the very least, you will have had time to think through the previous discussion, and you will know each other’s opinions ahead of time.

Oxygen is in the leader’s gas can.  A leader uses oxygen to fuel their people’s flames, and it is positive reinforcement.  Much research has been done to show that people respond to this type of conditioning.  Simply by adding words of encouragement anytime, someone does good work, meets deadlines, and meets expectations is reason enough to let them know.  I am not saying to go overboard here.  Your response should be on par with the level of work they did.  If they met the deadline, then say thank you for meeting the deadline.  If they completed their work early and the work was far beyond your expectations, then perhaps some bonus time off is in order or recognition at the next staff meeting will do the trick.  The key is to encourage your people to continue to do great things.  Also, you should be working to make this a habit, not all of us are good at it, and I’m still working on it!

Any positive reinforcement when not warranted is poison.  This creates confusion and sends the worst message.  It tells your people several things that are terrible about your leadership skills.  It says, you don’t know the difference between good or bad behavior, you are afraid to be honest, you don’t know how to deal with negative behavior or negative feelings, or you are short-sighted because you would rather lie to them for ‘good feelings’ now than to have a difficult conversation at the moment and the potential for a better future.

All of this will help create people that can handle the challenges of life.  Life is hard; work is hard; getting promoted is hard; finding a new career is hard.  If leaders don’t take the time to help create “fires” instead of guarding our actions and language to the point that all we have are “candles” we will continue to face weak organizations that are unable to change and shift with the demands of the industry.

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Natural Leaders Suck

Charisma, confidence, inspirational, and many other adjectives can be used to describe a natural leader.  Those traits can be positive or negative, depending on how they are used.  Before we continue, I want to make it clear that I don’t have anything against natural leaders, I am not a natural leader, but I know many great ones, I only mean to articulate how frustrating it can be to work with them when they don’t recognize that everyone does not have the same starting point.  I want to urge those natural leaders that read this to recognize a few points that may help make organizational life better!

Not everyone who wants to lead can be a leader, not everyone who can lead will be a leader, not everyone who leads should be a leader, but sometimes will and skill align to create great leaders.  So, my view of the age-old question of are leaders made or born is…both.  Some are born with it; some develop it through deliberate effort.

Leadership is not natural for everyone.  Natural leaders tend to forget that leadership does not come naturally to everyone.  Things that are intuitive and easy to a natural leader must be learned and experienced by others before they can add them to their repertoire.  I have had to spend countless hours, reading, talking, studying, failing, listening, and experimenting to be the leader I am today.  I still have so much more room to improve and sometimes get frustrated with my shortcomings, but they motivate me to keep learning.

Not everyone wants to lead.  Those that have learned to lead need to be careful of getting jaded by natural leaders or by those that don’t put in as much effort as they feel they had to.  You can’t force people to do what you do, help them if you can and move on.  Not everyone has a desire to lead which can seem frustrating to people that have worked so hard to become leaders.  We need to remember some people want to be technical experts and only want to stay at that level.  They don’t want to get to the point that they have to manage people and deal with that entirely different skillset.  We need these people, they are the backbone of most organizations, so don’t promote them into positions that don’t utilize their skills or that make them unhappy.   Let them do what they love and where their skills align with their passion.  There are plenty of others that want to lead people.

If you want to lead and it doesn’t come naturally to you, then once you decide to learn to lead you will enter a long journey that will never really end.  You will learn more than just leadership.  I’m not talking about knowing different leadership theories or famous leaders and their books, but real leadership skills.  You will also learn more about yourself than you want to know!  Get used to being uncomfortable and get after it!

 

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It’s Not Just Business

How many times have we heard the term, “It’s nothing personal, just business.”? It is in music, movies, and ingrained into our general culture. The problem is business is personal. We invest in them with money, sweat, tears, and time. Many personal sacrifices go into our businesses or our work. So how can it not be personal and what do you do about it? The answer is simple: Grow a thick skin and take things personally. ​

This most certainly does not happen overnight, it is not easy, but it is crucial. People’s criticism, although sometimes hurtful, is feedback and feedback is essential to business regardless of what the business is. Even outside of business it is vital.  An individuals performance will rarely improve without feedback. 69% of employees state if they are given feedback they will work harder and are better because of it. Most of this is because they know they are being observed and that people care about them and the work they are doing.

If you are the author of a blog, you will be criticized (trust me on this one). If you own and run an ice cream shop, you will be criticized (probably less than the blog).  If you invent a time-machine, you will be criticized. There will always be someone who is critical of you and your work. The point is to accept that you will be criticized and keep doing your thing. Do not let it deter you from your cause. There is no doubt this is much easier said than done and I struggle with this myself. But if you identify it as something worthwhile, and are deliberate about getting better at it, then it can be done.

I used to believe a good feedback mechanism was 360-degree feedback.  I still think it is a great idea, but a much too “the world is full of rainbows” idea.  People are very bad at taking feedback from superiors, let alone from subordinates or peers.  In order to implement a 360-degree feedback system in your organization, you would need to spend significant time working through the culture to get the leaders of the organization to accept the feedback.  Most likely, this approach would cause resentment from the subordinates because they would feel like their feedback is ignored.  Regardless of your feedback method, if you do it enough and force yourself to evaluate what people tell you, you will grow a thick skin with it you will be able to take feedback from random strangers or customers.

 

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