In our leadership journey, it is easy to rely on common sense.
Unfortunately, some of our oldest and most cherished beliefs can limit our influence if we don’t examine them carefully.
“It is the obvious which is so difficult to see…People say ‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?” – Asimov
1) Is the Golden Rule Wrong?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
In one form or another, you’ve probably learned this ancient wisdom and its call to treat others with value, dignity, respect, and compassion.
That’s good stuff…and good so far as it goes.
Leaders Need More
And yet…leaders who follow the golden rule can find themselves with unproductive and unmotivated teams.
What’s going on here? How can you treat people with respect and dignity, but still have problems?
People are unique. Effective leaders meet people where they are and provide them what they need to be grow and achieve results.
If you are an introvert who is content to be left alone and focus on your projects, but you try to “do unto others as you would have done to you”, you will find your extroverted team members wondering why you don’t care.
If you enjoy the big picture and love ideas, your team members who need to understand details will feel lost if you give them only the big picture you need.
If you prefer to be addressed with an especially tactful style of communication and use that with your team, those who need things said directly will be frustrated that you won’t just say what’s on your mind.
You get the idea – what works for us doesn’t always work for others.
A New Rule
The Golden Rule isn’t wrong – it serves an important role in helping us grow out of childish selfishness.
But effective leaders don’t stop there.
If you want your team members to be effective, you will give them what they need, not just what works for you.
2) Why “Don’t Look Back” Is a Great Song But Lousy Leadership Advice
Don’t look back / A new day is breakin’
If you’ve never heard Boston’s classic rock lyrics, you’re probably still familiar with the popular advice: “Don’t look back”.
Even the Old Testament tells of an angel’s admonition for Lot to not look back as he left Sodom and Gomorrah (and what happened to his wife when she did).
Advocates of the “don’t look back” philosophy will tell you to keep your eye on the vision, always look forward, forget about the past, and be fully committed to the future.
There are times where this is good advice, but…
On the Mountain
I live in the State of Colorado, right on the doorstep of the beautiful Rocky Mountains. I love hiking our majestic peaks, but I’m a big guy and some of these mountains are a real challenge.
Near the top where the air is thin, it might take me an hour or more to cover a mile. At times, everything in me says to give up and go home.
But I’ve found a secret that keeps me going. It’s simple and powerful and you can do it too:
Turn around and look down the mountain.
The power of the view beneath me is that it shows me what I’ve done…what I’ve already proven capable of. If I can get that far…certainly I can make it a little farther!
When Looking Back Is Perfect
When you encounter frustrations and are overwhelmed – those times when you doubt if you’ll ever accomplish your vision, I suggest you turn around.
Take some time to look at where you’ve been – what you have done, how you have grown, positive decisions you have made, and what you’ve learned.
If you’ve come this far, you can go a little farther.
You’re not looking back to linger in the past.
You’re looking back to take note of your own strength…to stand a little straighter…to be reminded that you’ve overcome obstacles.
With this fresh perspective you can look to the future and take one small step.
Then one more.
You can do it with your team as well. Take time to celebrate and acknowledge your accomplishments. They are fuel for your future!
3) How Being Bambi-Nice Cripples Your Influence
Generations of children grew up hearing the rabbit named Thumper repeat his mother’s lesson: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
Effective leaders care for the people they lead.
However, it is easy to confuse caring with being nice. They are not the same thing.
You may encounter an inner voice (or even a team member’s voice) that tells you you’re not being nice when you act in the best interests of another person.
You can say it kindly, you can maintain your respect for the other person, and you can reinforce their dignity. All these are desirable.
But it may not feel nice.
And yet, helping a team member understand the negative consequences of their actions may be the most caring thing you ever do. It gives them a chance to grow and experience more from life.
Are You Too Nice?
If being agreeable and getting along with your team prevents you from addressing uncomfortable subjects, the answer is yes.
You keep your team from growing and you will lose credibility.
If that describes you, it’s time to stop being nice and start to care.
“Never assume the obvious is true.” – W. Safire
Many of our common sense beliefs are valuable and help us grow into maturity, but they will limit our leadership if we do not use them thoughtfully.
What other common sense ideas have you had to reexamine in order to be an effective leader?
David M. Dye