One simplified way of looking at leadership is that it is motivating people to do things so you don’t have to do them yourself.
Though it has been about 20 years since I worked on a project he was managing, there is a “leader” whose motivational tactics stick in my mind. I don’t even remember the guy’s name. But I remember his email address. Without including the domain, it was driver@. And “driver” was NOT his last name. Wasn’t even close.
“Driver” was his personality. And with a personality so strong, it apparently made his name irrelevant – whether for an email address or in my memory bank.
This guy truly was a driver. His job was to manage the company’s most critical projects.
He developed project plans. Assigned tasks and deadlines. Held weekly meetings.
But where he earned his “driver” reputation was how he spoke in meetings to people who didn’t complete their assigned tasks for the week. He had the most intimidating look on his face, which was so red as if his blood pressure was 220 over 70. His vocal delivery was a monstrous growl. His eyes focused like lasers on the eyes of the delinquent employees, practically piercing their souls with his glare. And his word choice made it clear that he wanted every person in the room to know that the individual who failed to complete his or her task was virtually sabotaging the project, betraying the team, and destroying the company.
It was very uncomfortable. Even if you weren’t the person being berated.
So, everyone made sure to complete their tasks. No one would risk offering an excuse, no matter how legitimate. No one would ever want to face the wrath of “Driver” in those meetings.
People got their tasks done on time. And every project that “Driver” managed was successful.
To distill his “leadership” approach into three words, he wanted to “make ’em scared.”
So, with such a stellar track record of project success, “make ’em scared” should be the leadership approach every leader uses right?
Well, not so fast.
“Driver” was a project manager. He had no subordinates on the organizational chart. The team members assigned to his projects would work with him on a part-time basis and only for the duration of the project, usually several weeks or a few months at most.
That was plenty for those team members.
“Driver’s” tactics would never be sustainable in a situation where he had to manage full-time employees in an ongoing role. “Make ’em scared” wouldn’t work over the long-term. No self-respecting workers with true talent would subject themselves to a hostile work environment like the one “Driver” would create.
So, if “make ’em scared” isn’t the proper long term leadership approach, what is?
Well, think about the effort level it takes to do truly breakthrough work: long hours, a fast pace, challenging oneself to get outside of one’s comfort zone, handling the stress of aggressive timelines, etc. Why would someone step up their game to achieve something beyond simple day-to-day productivity?
Why? Because they care.
Employees will go above and beyond the call of duty when they care. When they care about the internal or external customer they are serving. When they care about the organization’s success. When they care about how their work is perceived by their peers and management. When they care about “doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do” (thank you, Dr. Soheila Lunney). And even when they care about helping their boss achieve what s/he wants to achieve simply because they like their boss.
So, a long-term leadership approach is different than “making ’em scared.” It’s “making ’em care.”
Think about the team that you lead. Are you communicating with them in a way that “makes ’em care” about doing a great job? Do they know who is benefitting from their late nights at the office? Do they feel a sense of fulfillment when they achieve those things that are defined as success in your organization? Do they avoid slacking off because they would hate to see someone have a less than stellar experience?
If you answered “no” to any of those questions, it may be time to set a new leadership goal for yourself. And that goal is simple to remember: “make ’em care.”
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