James Kouzes and Barry Posner write in their wonderful book called A Leader’s Legacy, Jossey-Bass, 2006, that “When we choose to lead every day, we choose to serve. Leading is not about what we gain from others but what others gain from us.”
Every day people are working hard and putting in long hours to get done what needs to be done. Most employees, like their supervisors, are stretched by the pressure to meet these expectations and most want to do a good job even if factors beyond their control prevent them from achieving this on a regular basis. Furthermore, most people are struggling to balance all of their work commitments with their home commitments.
In the midst of these challenges, I am a firm believer that Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in their book, First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Simon & Schuster, 1999, were right when they wrote “People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.” I also agree with the above authors that a “manager’s role is the ‘catalyst’ role,” namely to “speed up the reaction between the employee’s talents and the company’s goals, and between the employee’s talents and the customer’s needs.”
Yet, when we set clear expectations, motivate people to meet them and develop them for future challenges and opportunities, we, as leaders and managers, need to remember that some people do not have the skill set or know how to achieve certain goals. And thus, every day we need to coach people on their performance.
One thing I am noticing this winter is how few executives truly spend time on relationship building as part of performance coaching. These leaders are in numerous meetings every day and there often is a line of people waiting to meet with them in between these meetings, but on most days this is nothing more than technical and adaptive problem solving. It is common and normal work for a senior executive, but it also can be difficult, burdensome and tiring. Still, this is not relationship building.
Relationships are built on shared experiences and extremely good listening. They begin with someone investing the time and energy to learn another person’s stories and to understand their history. It is not fast and yet it is very important because if the purpose of leadership is “to mobilize others to serve a purpose,” a concept that Kouzes and Posner suggest in the aforementioned book, then we must realize that this depth of motivation comes from having an authentic and respectful relationship with another. It does not come from a contract or being present at a weekly meeting. It comes when we know another and understand another to the degree that we are willing to serve another.
As I move through these first months of 2011, I also note that more and more people want to discuss their whole life, not just their work life. They seek a depth of relationship where they can be seen as whole people rather than as fragmented individuals moving paper from one side of the desk to another while simultaneously filling in small cells on spread sheets in a computer. They seek to be inspired rather than overwhelmed.
In a fast paced, 3G moving to 4G broadband world, we are discovering that we have lost touch with our mentors and sometimes even ourselves. This winter and this spring, I strongly encourage you to spend more time building relationships with your key people and to learn their history and stories. Then, when possible and appropriate, share your own. It is time to coach the young and the old, to build and maintain community, and to recognize that fast is not always effective.
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257