Matters Column

Good leaders accomplish more with (rather than through) others

August 29, 2014
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Great leaders develop practices and communicate expectations that allow them to manage fairly and consistently as they motivate people to contribute their proportionate share toward the success of the team or the stability of relationships. Unfortunately, there are many insecure and unprepared leaders seeking to claim all of the gain while accepting none of the blame. 

The road to success is not a highway built upon the backs of others. It is a winding path having no definitive beginning and no absolute end upon which successful leaders guide those around them to new (and otherwise unconsidered) possibilities — a road paved with sacrifice and hard work allowing individuals to share both setbacks and successes as they grow.  

Identifying mutually beneficial objectives — and the actions necessary to bring them to fruition when developed, communicated and actualized — ensures success. Poorly thought-out initiatives, reactions or misdirection will result in failure. A successful leader lives somewhere between the extremes as he or she determines a direction, communicates a course of action and monitors progress. 

In order to accomplish much with others, a leader must:

Be actively engaged in building appropriate relationships. Successful leaders are actively involved in making the decisions that affect themselves, those around them and/or their families. Poor leaders often allow others to direct their actions and then complain when things do not progress as they might have wished. Good leaders make decisions and then move forward while monitoring progress so a detour does not become a dead end. Poor leaders lose track of the “big picture” while making isolated decisions, tending to live within silos rather than on an operational farm. 

Far too many individuals seek those most like themselves rather than identifying skill and personality traits that might complement (rather than mirror) their own as they build personal relationships. While a stated objective becomes our final destination, the relationships and decisions we make build the path on which we will travel. How you lead or relate to others ultimately determines whom you lead (or are in relationship with).

Delegate responsibility and authority. Successful leaders define and communicate expectations, assign responsibility and delegate the necessary authority to others so they can act. Undercutting people negating their actions creates “doers” rather than “dreamers” who will not contribute any thought or perspective of their own. Doing so much for someone else that they do little for themselves stifles, rather than elevates, a relationship. 

Good leaders analyze strengths when assigning projects to maximize the potential for successful resolution. They recognize what others can and cannot do, then work within those parameters to optimize the chances of success. 

If an individual has the ability to perform a task, knows when it must be completed and is not overloaded with interfering assignments, much will be accomplished if the leader avoids micro-managing activities while remaining available for questions and monitoring progress. Individuals must have the desire and feel the need to contribute — they must feel empowered to identify alternative actions and enabled to act independently — before they will risk failure or taste success.

Accept that failure is an excellent learning/teaching tool. Far too many leaders feel that “winning at any cost” is the only way to be successful. While winning more often than not is desirable, if an individual never makes a mistake, he or she will not know how to deal with adversity. 

Repeated failure should never be tolerated but if an individual can learn from a mistake, which is not dangerous, destructive or damaging to the organization’s (or the individual’s) reputation or ability to perform, embrace the shortcoming rather than hiding it and move beyond it, and it will become a “learning moment” that may not have been discovered in any other way.

Deal with issues promptly and appropriately. If something needs correcting and discipline is required, administer it specifically and immediately. If an individual does something exceptionally well, celebrate as soon as possible. It is important to stop the behavior rather than avoiding or ignoring it. 

Address and discuss issues that bother you before they become insurmountable. It is unfair to punish another for past mistakes you tolerated when addressing the most recent shortcoming that was a problem. 

One will not create mutually beneficial relationships if “everything is always wrong” and “nothing is ever right” in the actions, attitudes or behaviors of others. When issues or concerns come to the surface, stop the offending behavior and immediately replace it with positive actions and attitudes that will lead to acceptable results. Focus on modifying the behavior to achieve different results rather than addressing the individual and expecting personality change. 

Good leaders celebrate success loudly while discussing failure privately. They analyze themselves to identify their strengths, which they leverage toward a common good, and their weaknesses, which they work hard to strengthen or minimize by leveraging another’s gifts. 

A good leader may or may not be “a friend,” but must be fair and consistent. They must establish decision-making skills that allow them to act in a predictable and reasonable manner if they wish to become effective, which, if done by example rather than through edict, will allow them to accomplish great things. 

David Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association in Grand Rapids.

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