Lead People as a Person

I have often argued that leadership is the most important thing we can do for our organizations. Great plans, products or processes are not enough; it is the leadership of the people behind the plans, products or processes that make the difference between good and great. (My internal clients will be getting tired of hearing me say that...)

We tend to romanticize great leadership as something that is reserved for only the mighty few who can command and control with absolute confidence. I'm not sure why this myth still lingers, but it does.

With the increasing trend on big data and analytics, we can’t forget that no matter how much we learn about people and human behaviour; we’re all still people.  So here’s a simple principle: lead people as a person.

There are a few popular quotes out there that read something along the line of "the ultimate test of a leader is when they produce more leaders". I think it's these kinds of thoughts that over complicate leadership to the point of paralysis. 

Here’s the good news: leaders sometimes create more leaders, but mostly, they don't.  And that’s good.  

There is a funny scene from the TV show 30 Rock, where the character Tracy Jordan stands up in front of a group of about 300 high school students and says: "just be yourself and I guarantee you every single person in this room will one day be President of the United States.”

Barak Obama is the 44th president in US history, so all 300 of the students in the auditorium becoming president, doesn't seem like a probable outcome.  In the same way, not everyone in your organization will become a leader; indeed, not everyone wants to be a leader.  And that’s good, too.

Being a leader is a choice. It is a series of decisions that can be as simple as the decision to say good morning to someone, or not; to coach someone, or not; to give feedback, or not; to tell someone how you’re feeling, or not; to care if someone tells you how they’re feeling, or not. 

These little decisions, which happen every day, can be the difference between good and great leadership.  So take heart, it’s not your responsibility to create more leaders.  It is your responsibility to be the best leader you can be, and if the people around you want to emulate you, that is their decision.

Lead people as a person; not as a hero.  Here’s a simple formula for what it could look like to lead people as a person: ask + listen + appreciation = action.  Don’t wait until you’re already done the work and then show them your best idea. 

Ask people for their opinion. Say: “I’m working on this (insert what you’re working on), and I was thinking about doing this (insert your idea).  What do you think?”

Listen to their answer.  You might find that they give you something you hadn’t considered, a perspective that makes more sense, or an approach that is more effective.

Say thank you for their input and create a plan for action that may or may not include you doing any more work on that particular item.  Don’t over complicate it, just be a person.

About the Author: Desmond Courtney

Desmond is passionate about leadership that empowers people and strengthens organizations. He has worked with a variety of organizations from Fortune 100 companies to non-profit organizations in Canada and internationally.  He is a dynamic and engaging facilitator that brings the best out in people.  In his current role as a Leadership Development Specialist with Economical Insurance in Waterloo, he is responsible for designing and delivering leadership development programs and services for each level of leadership across the organization.  Desmond is an active community volunteer serving on the Volunteer Action Centre of K-W Board of Directors, the Leadership Waterloo Region Curriculum Committee, The Business & Education Partnership Speakers Bureau, and the Trillium Childhood Cancer Support Centre.  Desmond holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brock University and Master’s degree specialized in Work, Organizations and Leadership from Athabasca University.

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