Our family has been on a difficult journey in recent weeks as we support Dad through the last part of his life. He was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and at that time was given 6 months to 2 years to live. He has had 2 years, nearly all of which has been active and enjoyable. He has had many special times with both friends and family, and has really been able to celebrate life.
While there is deep sadness at this time, there is also extreme thankfulness – both for the special times we have had, but also for the solid foundations Dad helped build in our lives.
I want to share 3 of those leadership lessons with you now.
1. Actions matter most
I’ve heard it said that we judge others by their actions but ourselves by our intentions. This is a trap we can all fall into as leaders and it is dangerous as it can cause us to over rate our leadership performance. Most of us have good intentions, it is how we act out these intentions that set us apart. We need to be aware that as leaders, we can have a biased view of our performance, based on our intentions.
In order to counteract this, we need to critically evaluate our actions to ensure they accurately demonstrate our intentions and values. It is often worth getting someone independent to help you do this as deception in this area can sabotage your leadership and business goals.
2. Create common ownership
As children, we were always encouraged to take responsibility for caring for and contributing to the families’ culture, and possessions. I don’t recall Dad ever using the words 'yours' or 'mine' – it was always 'ours'.
Creating a culture of 'ours' is perhaps one of the greatest challenges as a leader. In most small to medium businesses, the business leaders are the business owners, therefore we have to work deliberately to help those working with us to feel like they too are part owners in the business. This is important as we are willing to put more energy into looking after things we own.
This can be facilitated by giving people responsibility for certain parts of the business. With responsibility comes accountability (and authority of course), consulting the team about important decisions. This doesn’t mean you have to do what they say, but it helps to be genuinely interested in their views, and regularly providing feedback on how the business is performing against its stated objectives. Greater transparency allows greater connection.
3. Support, don’t control
As a leader, it can be very tempting to tell people what we want them to do and how we want them to do it, especially if we have much more experience than those we are leading. However, people learn a lot faster, and are willing to contribute more when they feel supported rather than controlled.
It must have been tempting for Dad to tell us how to do things, especially when we started working on the farm. Somehow, Dad was able to set clear expectations on what he wanted done without disempowering us in the process. As leaders, we can over emphasise how we want things done, and under emphasise the outcomes we are looking to achieve.
When we create clear expectations around outcomes, both tangible and intangible, we allow people room to put their touch on the business. While this may feel risky, it creates room for innovation and business improvement.
Remember, everything rises and falls based on leadership. Everyone wins when our leadership improves.
I hope these lessons are as helpful to you as they have been to me. Let me know in the comments below.