Standing Side by Side: Principles of Effective Leadership

Professional Safety - July 2012
By: Shawn M. Galloway
Printable Version

We are all held accountable for our ability to not only achieve results, but also to exceed expectations. We believe this makes us a great supervisor, manager, or executive. It does not, however, make us a great leader.

Accomplishing goals through the efforts of others is a frequent description of management. If our goals are simply to delegate required tasks to others, then learning the art of management becomes one's immediate priority. As important as this is, it is a limited perspective of a person's responsibility when overseeing efforts of a direct report. Gone are the days where demonstrating management competency secures employment and contributes to organizational growth.

Success is not determined by who you are, but by what you have developed within others.

One is no longer viewed by excellent organizational executives as successful solely by individual contributions. Success is now viewed as accomplishable through the ability to inspire and leverage discretional effort towards the creation of transformative results, creating a culture that is passionate about, and hungry for, achievement. Leadership should be viewed as the ability to inspire others to accomplish not only what is perceived as impossible, but what actually is impossible.

One of the most beneficial gifts you can provide another person is to help them shape the way they perceive their job, and the world. A leader's goal should be to help someone think differently. John Quincy Adams once wrote, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader."

Should you gaze around your room, it would be accurate to estimate much of what surrounds you was once perceived as impossible by its creator's peers. Repeatedly developing innovative products, services, or results rarely derives from the external demands of a boss.

Arguments can be made that support placing stress upon someone to facilitate desirable outcomes. We must remember, however, that with the exception of the recent economic downturn leading to mass layoffs, the number one reason people leave their job is their direct supervisor. Moreover, many suggest that massive layoffs are ultimately the consequence of poor management decisions. Nevertheless, when we demand more and more out of employees, increase their stress, demonstrate we do not care who they are, and create an undesirable employment environment, people will leave for greener fields and nicer bosses.

It will be the intrinsically-motivated workforce that dominates market share.

Inspiring and leveraging discretional energy will be the focus of anyone attempting to transform their results in safety or any important area of operations. When people want to, rather than have to, different results emerge. This also facilitates a change in group values and behaviors increasing the likelihood of sustainability.

Even in the most difficult environments, it is the leader who creates a sense of purpose and says, "Join me. We can do it. We can get there." When individuals trust and understand their leader's intentions, and witness behavior reinforcing the belief in the destination, crowds will follow. What do you do to create trust, to get to know your employees, what motivates them, what and who is important to them? What do you do to demonstrate support for, and belief in, the destination?

If you are unable to answer these questions with positive examples, how will you be an effective influence on your employees? Influence is the catalyst that transforms managers into great leaders. When groups are intrinsically inspired and have purpose and support, transformation occurs.

Obstacles are the things you see when you either don't believe in yourself or feel that you aren't supported by others.

Support is determined not by how you think and feel, but by what you say and do. Don't judge your support for excellence in operations by your beliefs in the impossible, but by their experiences of you behaviorally demonstrating they are supported. Support must be both behaviorally defined and aligned.

Ralph Waldo Emerson believed, "What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say." When alignment doesn't exist between behaviors (i.e., voiced support, but behaves otherwise inconsistently), not only does the belief in the goal diminish, so does trust, credibility, and the overall relationship.

What would support look like or not look like? When defined by what would be observed, measurement is possible, facilitating an opportunity for leading indicators. Moreover, this helps progress the standard measurements of what is undesirable (e.g., cost of accidents, lost productivity, etc.) towards measuring what would be desirable, resulting in a culture focused on achieving success, rather than avoiding and reducing failures.

When employees are purposefully measuring the indicators of support for the objective, they are focused more on what leadership is doing well, which increases the attention on overall positive indicators. If support for safety is a desirable belief, what will you do to create the experiences that lead to communicated stories, reinforcing that support is happening? Beliefs cannot be forced, but they can be influenced.

One does not become an excellent leader when they believe they already are one.

There is no final destination on the path towards leadership excellence. Becoming an excellent leader is a journey, not a destination. Additionally, becoming a great leader results more from an increased focus on who people are and what motivates them, than from the results we desire they will provide us. The amount of time you invest in understanding your people, what influences their behavior, and motivates their desires, is directly proportional to the level of results you will recognize from their effort.

The best leaders are often not in a leadership position or, at minimum, are influential without purposeful intention. We must recognize neither position in the organizational hierarchy, education, nor experience level are prerequisites for becoming a great leader. If leadership is truly more about influence than position, all one requires is the ability to be influential. Consider those who have been trusted and influential to you. Were they always the senior individuals with the highest education or the most experienced? Sometimes it is the child who encourages you to be a better parent or a friend that inspires you to join a cause. Trust and caring are often key variables of excellent leaders.

The more influential people you develop, the less influential you need to be.

A leader's ability to focus beyond results and instead on establishing relationship-strength and trust with employees will become an organization's single most effective competitive advantage. The French poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery once wrote, "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." When effort is concentrated on influencing others, building trust, and rallying around a cause, we will create other leaders within the rank and file. Leaders should create the vision, but the most important thing they should do is create a legacy of leadership. How deep and widespread this legacy becomes will depend on how influential of a leader you will be.

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