I’ve been thinking about leaders that I’ve worked with over the years as well as my own approach to leadership. What prompted this introspection was reading an interview of Robert Gates, titled The U.S. Has No Global Strategy.
Apart from the obvious statement in the title, this particular quote about his new book A Passion for Leadership really got me thinking:
His book is full of cogent advice and war stories, most testifying to one of life’s less-advertised facts: The higher you go, the more power is about persuading, cajoling and stroking ‘people you don’t like.’
That really sums up what I’ve seen at the highest levels of organizations. Namely, lots and lots of people you may not like. But, if you want to get anything done, that’s who you have to work with to make it happen.
Personal Leadership Goals
I didn’t take this into account at least consciously during my career. I’ve always felt it was about building competence and working together. The persuading I could do, but cajoling was a weakness and stroking didn’t fit at all.
I’m reminded of very early in my career being asked about my career goals. Thinking overly hard, I came up with “gaining ever increasing control over the success of my work.”
What I meant was building expertise and gaining ground in the leadership hierarchy that would allow me to set goals and have the resources to reach them. What I avoided were those people I felt I couldn’t work with either due to trust issues or my perspective on their competence.
If I’d really thought about the control aspects, I would have focused more on an entrepreneurial path or even some sort of artisan craftsman role. Or, if I really wanted more control, I would have learned to work with everyone and deployed more cajoling and started stroking.
Leadership and Shared Goals
I did work well with at least one leader that I didn’t always fully appreciate. I think we both had a mutual disdain for one another. Not at a high level, but we just didn’t see eye-to-eye. Or perhaps better said, we had different personal styles and approaches to leadership.
Yet, I could see his goals and the reasons behind them and I truly believed they needed to happen. So I worked hard every chance he gave me to serve those goals, to provide my insight when I could, and make things happen within my own responsibilities that furthered those goals. In turn, he may well have paid me one of the great compliments of my career.
He stopped me once at a business gathering. He started to say something and then stopped short, saying he needed just a couple of moments of thought. Then he rolled out a statement that as a leader you’re always concerned that if you look back, no one will be following you. Then he went on to say that when he looked back, I was always there. He continued by saying how much he appreciated my support and my work. What an incredible compliment.
You can see that his thoughtful compliment made a real difference in how I felt and, if anything, upped the level of work I was willing to provide to support his efforts.
In one of my very early exposures to leadership training I learned that providing positive feedback requires these key steps:
- General Reference – I really appreciate…
- Specific Example – Your report provided superb insight on…
- Personal Quality – Your personal initiative and hard work made all the difference.
- Resulting Benefits – As a result, we can…
- Close the Meeting – Do not go on to discuss other items.
That last one is the most important to get right. If you linger, you’re quite likely to go on to some other issue or task. That will leave the person who received the positive feedback with the impression you were just buttering them up for the next effort, instead of truly crediting their performance.
Management vs. Leadership
The classic definition of management is “getting things done through other people.” And that task clearly involves both those who you directly lead and those who you influence throughout the organization, including those who manage you.
So I end there. My career was spent working very hard with my teams to make sure they had achieveable goals, the tools to accomplish those goals, and the feedback necessary to show if they were on target – plus a lot of cajoling and stroking along the way.
Guess I just didn’t recognize how much those same things were needed by my bosses. Or maybe better said, not needed but required to implement what I felt were sound choices and initiatives for the orgnizations I served in my career.
I would recommend for your PathForeWord that you take into account managing and leading your bosses as well as your team. And, that would require, as Robert Gates suggests, persuading, cajoling, and stroking.