Corner Office: Good Leaders Know People — Including Oneself
The success of any organization depends in large part on a leader's people skills. Choosing the right people for the right jobs and overcoming the personal distance created by a leader's title can make the difference between success and failure.
The first job of any leader is to put the right people into the right jobs. Once the right people are on the team, a coach helps them succeed by allowing them the freedom to use their gifts.
I feel so strongly about this that I believe that the right people will succeed even if they are given the wrong strategy — they will adjust and figure out the flaws. But the wrong people, even with the right strategy, will probably fail. It may surprise less experienced leaders that the right people are more important than the right strategy.
Good CEOs realize that unless we have people with the right gifts around us, we will fail. Hopefully, we recognize this earlier in our careers. Inexperienced leaders can be particularly tempted to make the mistake of thinking, "I got here because I'm smart and I'm capable, and since there's nobody more capable than I am, I'll just do all this work myself." Making the transition to leadership means moving from being a doer to being a coach of those who do.
We all have had bosses who thought they knew how to do our jobs better than we did. I worked with a brilliant leader who had a tendency to frustrate his staff by micromanaging, but he didn't believe it was a problem. He was so smart that he probably could have done any of his direct reports' jobs better than they could. But that was not his job anymore. It became a lose-lose situation for both him and his staff members — he did not get the best out of their creativity and ideas, he slowed down decision making, and he demotivated them.
As leaders we need to choose staff members we can trust and then judge their work based on whether it accomplishes the goal, not on whether they produce it exactly as we would have. A coach empowers his team to do what it's been equipped to do, but he resists the temptation to do it for his team members. He does not compete on the field with the players but creates the plan and works with the players so they can carry it out. A coach creates a team environment with clear goals and a strong culture of teamwork in which they can succeed.
Putting the right people in the right job and then coaching them to success is only half the equation, however. The leader is the other half. We can cast the right vision and have the right people, but we also have to be the right kind of leaders. We must realize our own strengths and weaknesses, how we are perceived, and how — intentionally or unintentionally — we impact those around us.
Leaders who lack self-awareness are blind, constantly bumping into things because they do not see them. They have a terrible time navigating their jobs because they do not realize the impact they have on others.
We might believe ourselves to be approachable; however, we often underestimate the chilling effect of title and status in large organizations. As leaders, we must acknowledge that the higher we are elevated in leadership, the louder our voices are. That can be a great benefit when we want something accomplished; we can use our position to influence people in positive ways. However, a CEO's whisper can sound deafening and have unintended consequences. I am always amazed that I can make a comment in a meeting about something that should be done — input, not direction — and find out later that whole task forces were formed just because I made an offhand mention.
When a CEO of a large organization walks into a meeting, everything changes. Some people who might have spoken up with a great idea in front of their peers will not take that risk in front of the CEO. It is important for a leader to understand this negative dynamic and diffuse it. If we can get people past our title, it creates more freedom to communicate.
If you are not sure how you are perceived as a leader, there are two things you can do to develop self-awareness. First, do an anonymous, objective, 360-degree review on yourself. Be sure to include people who love you and people who might not. Do this every couple years, and heed the results.
Second, identify one or two trusted, well-placed people who will tell you the truth. A lot of leaders fail to give permission to people to talk honestly with them. But you need that.
As leaders, we often need to spend a lot of time dealing with abstract issues, such as policies, strategies, financials, goals or customer data. If we aren't careful, we can begin to think that it is in these areas where leadership lies. But an organization is made up of people. These individuals determine its success or failure, and as their leaders, we have to think first about the people we lead.