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I was working as a consultant with a business owner who explained to me that a promising hire “wasn’t working out.” This senior-level employee was within their first 100 days and wasn’t quite performing to expectations and had just no-showed for multiple days in a row.
It was poor judgement on the employee’s part. They had a reason, but it wasn’t something that protected them from whatever consequence the company deemed necessary — including making a clean break.
The owner asked for my opinion. “What do you think I should do?”
I responded with, “What do you want to do?” He described the situation to me and further explained that he was looking for my opinion because I had met with the employee a few times, more than his direct supervisor. I could tell he was aggravated, so I elaborated.
“You and I both know that the employee isn’t the biggest issue here. The biggest issue is that your leadership team is struggling to work with employees that don’t “fit” your culture. They aren’t leading, they just happen to be in front. This problem doesn’t go away until the root issue is resolved.”
I wish I could tell you that they kept him. It’s unfortunately rare to hear stories where meaningful leadership moves both the individual and the company forward effectively when things don’t fit well in the beginning.
Leaders move people.
Real leadership moves people. Great leaders build momentum as they move people. Their leadership advances both individuals and the organization. While there are times where either the person or the company sacrifices for the other, this strengthens the relationship and results in growth for both.
There are counterfeit examples of leadership, one being a leader who achieves great objectives but at the cost of their people. This short-term mentality chews through people and leaves organizations in shambles.
The great news is that great leaders can be developed. Leadership isn’t reserved for the charismatic or only those in authority. The ability to lead others or move people is something that can be practiced and improved no matter where you are or what position you hold.
Leaders understand what matters.
Ever been asked to follow an outdated rule or hit an unreasonable target? Or be asked to compromise something important to you for something that doesn’t matter?
People in charge tend to get overwhelmed by the demands of the people in charge of them. It’s important to know how to filter the noise into what matters. Great leaders know what matters to the company and what matters to their people and keep those values aligned even when titles, deadlines, and chaos try to alter priorities.
Leaders recognize ability.
Successful leaders understand their people beyond their title and job description. While someone may be hired for a specific role, every employee possesses unique abilities that become part of their value to the organization.
Leaders that intentionally look for these abilities can change the trajectory of projects, departments, and careers. By knowing what matters to both employees and the organization, great leaders look for ways to grow individuals and the organization simultaneously.
Leaders build momentum.
By knowing what matters and investing in the most valuable abilities of their people, great leaders make even difficult objectives feel like riding a bike downhill. They build momentum by describing a vision that achieves meaningful results to the organization as well as their team and leverages the team’s greatest strengths in the process.
Few projects are perfect for everyone and that is the power of momentum that great leaders have access to. By building a culture on these concepts, the project that doesn’t fit for someone becomes a challenge and an opportunity rather than another point of frustration.
Leaders communicate effectively.
Understanding what matters, recognizing ability, and building momentum are all attributes of a leader, but supporting those skills is the continuous desire to grow as a communicator. The skills of a leader can be amplified or dampened by their communication skills. Great leaders look to develop communication skills for groups, their team, and individuals, understanding that the better ideas are shared and understood, the higher the likelihood of an excellent outcome.
One of the most important things I learned early in my professional career was that leadership doesn’t start at a title. Every day is a unique opportunity to lead the people around you. These concepts can be used at every level and in every relationship from your home to your workplace and into your community.
This is why I’ve continued to coach people that leadership isn’t what people do from the front, it’s what we do next to each other. I’ve been fortunate to have friends, co-workers, and mentors who moved me because they cared about me, valued me, learned to speak my language, and inspired me to do something meaningful. Throughout my life, great leaders have made all the difference in me succeeding regardless of the circumstances.