Never has there been a more important time for leaders of organizations, communities, and governments to believe in their people—for each of us to believe in each other.
That’s the world I want to live in, and the organization I want to do business with. Yet it's in major short supply.
People in organizations and communities around the world are yearning to do their best work. What's getting in the way? They simply can’t be at their best when operating with fear, amplified by their leader’s directives, advice, withholding, stoicism and skepticism—by being discounted or treated as simply expendable. You may get good hard work from fear, but greatness requires belief.
I have a few suggestions for you to try out on this topic. Coaching many executives across industries over time I’ve run across these three common habits among the most engaging, highest performing leaders:
1. They know and show they believe in their people.
Wholeheartedly showing someone you believe in them is the simplest, most powerful thing you can do to bring out their best.
How do you do this? Know in your bones your people are capable and intent on doing great things. Give them latitude to do their work their way, and watch carefully for their stumbles. When something goes awry, catch them NOT before they fall, but before they plummet. Then show them where to look for their OWN answers.
Do that by asking questions rather than giving them directives, war stories, solutions or “advice”—questions that help them illuminate what they already know but may be buried, or that challenge them to figure out something new on their own. It takes more energy and patience up front, but pays off by helping people believe in themselves, and thus who come to the table wanting, willing and able to be autonomous and prone to achieving.
Practicing this approach you literally build greater capability and capacity into your organization.
2. They zoom in to the details in a positive way only when, and for as long as is necessary—until things are back on track.
An exec client of mine—top rated consistently in his organization—explained it this way: “When I hire someone, and we have our first meeting, I bring a microscope, and put any old slide in. I explain to the new hire that when they are doing their best, and their people are at THEIR best, it’s just another nice tool on the bench. And when things aren’t so good we’ll zoom in together. See? There’s more detail. Now even further. Huh. Look at that. Now what does it mean? I’ll challenge you to see what you can see / learn / solve on your own. And I’ll stand by you as you do that. I’m there with you, because your business is my business.”
As a top exec, it’s not always wrong to be very far into details, or very high up looking down from 40,000 feet. Doing one or the other without being positive and thoughtful is usually a lower-performing pattern. Rather, knowing how to handle the bumps, failures, and blow ups by knowing just when and how to zoom in and zoom out on your people, and help them do the same, leads to sustainable and positive growth for you, your people, and your organization. Put simply: it works.
3. When believing and zooming thoughtfully yield something less than the person’s best, the leader will help them make a professional change or transition.
People aren’t office furniture to be thrown away when no longer right for the job, or when the stock price is in the crapper. We stand together, or we all fall as a society over time. Believe-in-you leadership means you give someone every opportunity and your own best efforts, and when that fails, or your enterprise fails, it’s time to help them make a change—one that’s right for them, for you, and the organization or community.
If you’ve tried everything, and it’s just not working, then the person isn’t suited to where they are. Shall we dump them, or exercise the golden rule and treat them as we would want to be treated? The best “layoff” I ever had was when my boss proactively helped me find something better—meaning a better fit for the organization and myself. I am always grateful to her, and I know she felt great about it too.
When you practice these principles you are far likelier to have a higher performing organization, not to mention making the world a better place. After all, imagine the leadership embodied in a world where we all believe in each other, and you get my point.
Spend a day, week, or month operating from these principles--starting with the assumption that your people are worthy of being believed in because they WANT to be at their best, and you will create the conditions for the best to happen.
In fact, I know you can do it.