I want you to take a second and think about the best leader you ever worked for. More specifically, think about what it was that made this person the BEST.
What characteristics did they demonstrate, how did they act, what was it that you remember about them that brings them to mind right now? Go ahead and take a second or two and make a list.
I was first confronted with this question while sitting in a workshop with a group of twenty or more business people and managers. By the time we were done, not only had we each made our own list, but our trainer had assembled a class list of more than forty-five characteristics. I have seen this exercise performed countless times since, in classes comprised of all manner
of participants, from senior executives to entry level factory workers. Interestingly, the list always turned out to be essentially the same. In fact, I have even seen classes of high school seniors do this exercise, just changing the focus from best leader to best teacher. Guess what. The list never changes. If you actually took the time to do your own list, it would almost certainly include some of these terms:
Creative, welcomed input
Direct, to the point
Had my Back
Led by example
Walked their talk
See, I told you, the list never changes and neither does the lesson it teaches. To understand that lesson, I want you to ask yourself one question. For every item on the list, ask yourself, is that item a skill or an attitude?
If you were honest with yourself, you have to admit that every item on this list, and I'm sure any items you may have that aren't listed above, is an attitude. Even if you want to suggest that something as abstract as Organized is a skill I would counter that by arguing that it is, at best, a soft skill based on attitude. After all, if you don't want to be organized, you won't be, no matter how much organizational training you may have. But, when you consider the issue of skills, that is a moot point at best. Consider this;
If this is the best leader you have ever worked for, then it is reasonable for me to believe that they have achieved some success. They have gained the necessary education, developed the ability and demonstrated that they can perform a specific task or deliver a specific result well enough to have earned the right to a more responsible position and the benefits that go with it. If that is the case, answer me this, why is it that nobody ever identifies a single, hard, specific skill that this person must have in order to have reached their current level of success?
Why doesn't anybody ever say:
He writes fabulous code
He writes fabulous letters with great sentence structure
She is an excellent mathematician
He is a master machinist
She could conjugate a verb like nobody's business
She is a brilliant analyst
Why? Because if they hadn't connected with you effectively, on your terms, they never would have been able to teach you what they knew or lead you to produce what they required of you. That connection was manifested through their attitude, particularly the attitude that touched you the right way, and that’s why you remembered them. Even more interesting, look at the range of attitudes. Some people liked a manager who was funny, others appreciated patience while still others needed discipline, or directness. People are different and the best managers invariably can connect with different people different ways, as I have said so often.
From my personal observation, the best leaders, managers and bosses not to mention the best teachers and professors connected with their people and students in ways that made it possible for them to deliver the results that they had to produce anyway on terms that gave the individual a personal sense of satisfaction in their work. Essentially, they created an environment where their people looked forward to coming to work and strive to meet or
exceed what is expected of them while having some fun along the way.
Do your people look forward to working for you? Do they go home feeling successful in their own right? How much easier would it be for you to achieve what is required of you if they did?