Sir Ernest Shakelton and crew spent the years 1914 to 1916 shipwrecked and stranded in pursuit of their dream – reaching Antarctica. The miracle of this story is that they survived. How can a crew of men stranded in one of the most desolate parts of the world, survive in inhumane temperatures and conditions?
Shakelton’s men wanted to follow him; he did not force them to do so. He was a people-centered leader and his example can be a guide for anyone in a position of leadership. What is “people-centered leadership” or, what we call “all-encompassing leadership?”
All-encompassing leadership is like a compass. A compass points out what direction you are headed. It identifies where north, south, east and west are. All-encompassing leadership is also concerned with direction – the direction of leadership. Leadership focuses on four directions: downward (employees), sideward (peers), upward (bosses), and inward (self).
Unfortunately, I (Tommy) remember having to use a compass one day when I was out exploring in the wilderness. As is typical for me, I was separated from everybody else, doing my own thing. Suddenly I became terrified as it dawned on me that I was lost. Not knowing where to turn or what direction to go in, I had to rely on my compass for direction. Surely, you have had similar moments of panic. Just as the compass is a helpful tool when you are lost in the wilderness, so can all-encompassing leadership be when you find yourself lost in the wilderness of organizational life.
Many times, leaders are lost in their jobs and have no idea where to turn or what to do. It is not surprising to discover that many leaders (or at least holders of leadership positions), do not always know what direction to head toward.
All-encompassing leadership is not too much concerned with the strategic direction of the organization or products, performance, results and rewards. Rather, it is concerned with the direction of the leader’s focus. His or her focus should point towards people.
Take a moment and think about this. What does leadership require? This is not a trick question. Leadership requires followers. Who are followers? People! So why is there so much focus on performance, products, etc.? It is a mistake that many organizations make. If the focus of leadership begins with people, real performance indicators and results will occur.
Before even deciding what products to concentrate on, the Sony Corporation set out from the beginning to become a great company. To do this, the leaders knew that they must focus on people. And this is what they did. They hired and developed the best. If you take away anything from this article, please remember this one word – people.
So, why is leadership about people? For one thing, there is no such thing as leadership without followers. People are an asset entrusted to you by your organization. More money is spent on payroll and other personnel related areas than any other item in organizational life. In mostly every organization, the people-related issue is the largest asset on the balance sheet. Nevertheless, it is surprising that in many cases employees are treated like a liability.
If you hired someone to manage your investment, what would be the expected outcome? Of course the desired outcome would be the growth of your portfolio. You would never be satisfied with the simple preservation of the assets. You would want growth.
Then, why is it that so many leaders treat their employees like a liability? It makes much more sense to treat them as an asset and help them grow. As a leader, the focus should be on developing your people as an asset. What percent of your time do you invest in developing people?
Great leaders intuitively know that leadership is about developing people. Jeffery Immlet, the CEO of General Electric, spends 50% of his time growing his people. Both the Harvard Business Review and Courageous Leadership recently wrote of the need for leaders to spend over half of their time developing people. Take a sneak peak into the board rooms of the major corporations and what do you find – you find the board of directors encouraging the CEOs to focus their efforts on the development of their people. Why is this so important? Because, a foundational principle of organizational life is: “A company cannot be any better than its employees.” Your success as a leader and a company, is ultimately dependent on your people.
Be an All-Encompassing Leader
To become an all-encompassing leader, you must know and lead in the four directions: downward, sideward, upward and inward. You may ask, “ok, how do I do this?”
Let’s start with the traditional starting place: your employees. How do you lead those who work for you? Take a moment and write out how you think you can best lead your employees.
We often think of approaches like command and control. Although these may be cultural approaches to leadership, deep down we realize that they are limited in their effectiveness.
Great leaders start by getting to know their employees. If you do not know your employees, (meaning more than just their name and birth date), how are you going to have an impact in their life? Start by getting to know who they are; why they are the way they are, what their interests are, dreams, ambitions, strengths and talents? Leadership requires a personal understanding of those around you.
Beyond getting to know your employees, there are three words that you need to remember – believe, inspire and empower. First, you must believe in people. If you do not believe in others, your leadership will be crippled. Forget about theories like McGregor’s Theory X, which says that the average person inherently dislikes work and needs high supervision. We need to move into modernity where leadership is considered a relational process. People are valuable and as a leader you need to believe in them. Believing in others is a simple change of perspective. Try this, walk into work tomorrow and begin to believe the best about your employees. Then do this day after day. Before long, you will see the impact. Once you know and believe in your employees, you can begin to inspire them. Rarely are people inspired by taking orders. Most people are inspired by seeing a picture of the future and understanding how they are a part of it. Take a moment and think through each of your employees and the role that they play. Then let them know why they are important and what you are relying on them to do. Then see if you can pass this test, and let someone else ask each of your employees what role they fulfill for you.
Once your employees know their role, how important that it is, and exactly what you want them to do, you should empower them. Part of this means you are going to have to give work away.
How do you do lead your co-workers? You may be thinking, “I cannot lead them, because they do not report to me.” But, you can and you must. Remember, if you are not leading, you are being led. As you lead your peers, you will be surprised at the leadership you gain.
There are four points you need to remember in order to lead your co-workers. Firstly, you must add value to their life and work. Secondly, you should encourage their growth. Thirdly, you need to share what you have, and what you know. And fourthly, you ought to promote their work. Sometimes, this point seems absurd. But, it really does work. Give it a try and enjoy the results!
All-encompassing leadership is about all of the people around you, even your boss.
How do you lead your boss? First, you must remember that he or she is the boss. As we work with various leaders, we find so many people who try to act like they are the boss, when they are not. Your job is to support your boss. You need to anticipate his or her needs, and put their needs ahead of yours. This is one of the most sought after characteristics in employees. Bosses look for people who understand their needs and are willing to meet them.
Also, you should become an encourager. Bosses need encouragement. Leadership is a very lonely place. If you were to take a survey in your organization, the results would most likely reveal that the leadership rarely, if ever, receives encouragement. Instead, they spend most of their time dealing with problems.
And by all means, be trustworthy. It is time that workers stop pretending to support and like their leader, while talking behind his or her back. As you support, encourage and show yourself to be trustworthy you will gain a multitude of future leadership opportunities. By doing this, you are showing yourself to be a loyal employee.
With each of these directions of leadership, it is important to remember one point. You need to help others succeed. This is the key to leading others. It makes no difference if they are your peers, boss or employees. If you do this, your ability to lead will reach far beyond anything that you have ever imagined. And it will most likely spread throughout and perhaps beyond, your company.
To summarize all-encompassing leadership, let us take a look into the average promotion process of great organizations. Suppose Maha and Nour are up for a promotion. They have all of the same performance indicators, education, and they have been at the company for the same length of time. As a matter of fact, they are equally matched in every surface area. Therefore, the senior management team takes a deeper look. Firstly, they look to see who is in “each wallet,” (this is a phrase indicating who you have taken with you in your career). As they look in Maha’s wallet, they notice that she has done a great job of building a loyal team. When they investigate Nour’s wallet, they see that she, too, has developed a faithful following. But her wallet is more like a family album, many people who have worked around her are in other positions throughout the organization. Some are even in higher positions of leadership. Who gets the job? Maha has the experience, the numbers and the faithful following, but she gets to keep her current job. Why? Because, Nour helped others succeed. So in effect, she helped the company succeed. Success for a leader is in the people around you. Are you succeeding?
(To learn inward leadership, continue to read Executive Tools throughout 2004.)
*Tommy Weir and Christine Crumrine are from Beirut-based CrumrineWeir, the global leadership experts.