Leadership is a contact sport

I came across the statement forming the title of this post towards the end of 2016.  It is attributed to Marshall Goldsmith, who is an American leadership coach.  I have paired it with another quotation, which was made by President Eisenhower, “You don’t lead people by hitting them over the head.  That is assault, not leadership.”

Increasingly, I  worry that we have lost sight of what being a leader or a manager entails.  For me, it is not about containing people and controlling them – the “my way or the highway” approach – but about nurturing them and helping them grow.  An alternative, admittedly slightly saccharine turn of phrase, is to “put wind beneath their wings”.  I like the picture this conjures up.

A mutual acquaintance of Trevor and mine used to work with Sir Terry Leahy during the height of his reign at Tesco.  Leahy expected his managers to spend 15% of their time developing their people.  I think that is a fabulous figure.  If you stop to think about it, it represents a commitment of over one-seventh of your work-time on helping make the people who work for you better tomorrow than they are today.  One-seventh ties nicely into another recent post about Covey’s seven habits.

Time quantity

My question, therefore, is what amount of your time are you going to commit and actually deliver to develop your people?  What can you stop doing in order to provide this servant leadership (Robert Greenleaf’s opus still stands in my opinion)?  Daniel Pink writes about the three legs of creating a motivated work-force, namely Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery.  If you’re not making that commitment to learning and development in the organisation you lead, how can you expect your people to acquire mastery (which Malcolm Gladwell says needs 10,000 hours of practice) and so be motivated to willingly give discretionary effort.  (Does this have any semblance of existence at Southern Rail, for instance?)

Time quality

While you may give one-seventh of your time to leading your people’s development, what are you actually doing?  What is the shape and format of the conversations (and let’s call them that rather than “interactions” or “engagements”) you’re having with your people?  Are you listening more than your speak; are you giving them a chance to question and challenge you?  Are all your remarks aligned with the strategic intention of the organisation, such as that may exist?  If there is no clarity about (Pink’s) purpose, then do you risk making spur of the moment observations?

Where does the customer feature in your conversation, or your suppliers, your host community, your impact upon our world (and, if you didn’t get Tim Peake’s book for Christmas crammed full of photographs taken during his time on the International Space Station, I urge you to acquire it and recognise the beauty and fragility of our world) and, of course, your fellow works, what is being spoken about? Widgets, numbers, procedures?

Organisations comprise people brought together to achieve some common goal.  While the leader(s) may have had the vision to set that goal, its realisation depends upon the people who form the team that is the heart and soul of that firm.  In that sense, the leaders stand on the shoulders of giants who accomplish that goal.

Time remembered

In 2017, more than ever before, as leaders let’s invest in our people through the time we spend with them and the effectiveness of that time we spend together.  This does not mean we have to pussy-foot around. Candour is essential.  The what is said and how it is said is crucial.

A few years ago during the judging of the WOW! Awards, Merseyside Police were nominated.  The Superintendent who led the force’s participation in Derek Williams’s excellent scheme recognised my surname.  “Your surname is unusual and you said you were from Liverpool.  Was your Dad a copper?” I was asked.  “Yes, he was your rank and ran the Training School,” I replied.  “I remember being bollocked by your Dad.  Good man.”

Let’s do likewise and earn the legacy my Dad won and is recalled so positively 30+ years from his passing.

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