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Lightbulb of Leadership Simplicity

I love it when you have those little seminal moments of understanding. Moments when a little light bulb comes on in your head. Moments when some reading, thinking and practice comes together to give a gem of understanding and conectivity, so simple you wonder why you never saw it before. I had one of those today. Let me tell you about it.

Stories of impact

Its simplicity came in the form of an assembly that I took for a group of children. I was talking to them about the good heart of a leader. I told them two stories, one was the famous story of the Good Samaritan and the second was the story of Blake Mycoskie. In case you are not familiar with either of them here are the summaries.

Good Samaritan: A man is beaten up by robbers and left to die. A priest and a temple helper come along and see the man but pass on by without helping because they are worried about the repercussions for them. Finally, a Samaritan, enemy of those who were listening to the original story, comes along, sees the need, stops and helps him.

Blake MyCoskie: While traveling in Argentina in 2006, Blake witnessed the hardships faced by children growing up without shoes. His solution to the problem was simple, yet revolutionary: to create a for-profit business that made shoes – TOMS (Tomorrow’s shoes). When you bought one, they donated one to a child in need. Since 2006 TOMS shoes has donated over 60 million pairs of shoes.

As I explained the stories to the children, I told them that the heart of a good leader means that they:

All sounds simple and lovely for an assembly. But we are grown ups. We get that if we see someone in need of help we should help them. Where is the grown up nugget of inspiration?

Story of reflection

This week I read ‘Five dysfunctions of a team’ by Patrick Lencione. In the book he tells the story of Kathryn, a newly appointed CEO whose job it is to improve the teamwork of a dysfunctional executive team. Half way through the book, one of the team has left. The remaining team members are concerned that the CEO has been too hard, so the CEO reveals a story from her early career. She tells the story of Fred, a hard working but opinionated member of her first team, when she started out in business. He works hard, does a great job but winds the other team members up. The team speak to her about it. But he does get work done and so she gives him even more work to do. Staff came to her again and they had reached breaking point. After a tough night of thinking and losing sleep, she made her first big decision. . . She promoted him. Two weeks later 3/7ths of the team quit and work rates dropped. Soon after this, her boss decided to do some firing . . her. As she recounted the story, she reflected on that moment with her executive team. Her conclusion on what caused this poor performance and production in the team? It was not Fred, but in fact her tolerance of Fred’s behaviour.

Now you may ask why I have connected the social responsibility of Good Samaritan and Blake MyCoskie with this story of failure to act on poor behaviour within a team. Well, because the same simple principle in that children’s assembly applies.

Respond to the need

If you see a need, whether that is staff behaviour, company performance or a health and safety issue, and you don’t respond in some way, I can guarantee that it will come back to bite you, or someone else, on the bottom. True, sometimes you need to let staff work things through, but it should always be part of wise consideration that drives it and not fear of dealing with the situation.

This principle can be carried with you in every situation. For example:

I teach candidates on my training about Spot, Speak & Synergise. This applies when talking to someone about an issue. Spot the issue, Speak into it. Then Synergise it with the key values, behaviour, expectation that you have already agreed as an organisation.

Driven by the need

Having the heart of a good leader relies on seeing, responding and being driven by the need. In the case of Kathryn in her early leadership, she saw the need but did not respond appropriately and she was driven by her fear of upsetting the status quo or by causing offence. Seth Godin, in his book ‘Tribes’, talks about a leader is like ‘a unicorn in a balloon factory’. Their job is to sometimes to upset the status quo in order to achieve a greater result. It requires a mindset of ‘seeing and taking responsibility’ and being prepared to take the short term pain for the long term gain. The driver behind dealing with the issue should not be anger, frustration or annoyance, but the need itself, the need to make things better.

So whatever you face today, sad colleague, disruptive team member or dropping performance, remember to follow those 3 simple steps.

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