Try this out: the next time you’ve got twenty people in a room (or 2 or 2,000), ask this question: “Recalling the leader in your life (parent, teacher, coach, boss, pastor, mentor) who had the biggest and most positive impact on you, what did they “do” the made such a difference?”
I have asked this question of groups many dozens of times, perhaps even a hundred times. Before I tell you what the answers always are, please allow me a small digression.
Great enterprises — whether private sector, social sector, or faith-based — are great because lots and lots of people show up every day intent upon doing great things that day on the job! The greatest organizations on earth are great precisely because they are filled with people who have dedicated themselves to do their utmost, whether or not the boss is looking, it’s on the job description, or there will be monetary reward. You want to lead a great venture? Fill it with great people who – here’s the all-important word – choose to do their very best at work.
Um, right, there is that small, nagging question that pops up right at this very spot: “How do you get people who are like that!?”
Enough with the digression! “What did the leader who had the biggest and most positive impact on you do that made such a difference?” Here are the answers I always get. He loved me. She believed in me. He trusted me. She knew that I could be more than I was. He pushed me to become excellent. She was there for me. He did what he promised. Her word was her bond. He did what was right. Her ‘say’ was her ‘do.’ He was a servant. She was humble. He held high standards, and lived up to them himself. She apologized when she made a mistake. He encouraged me rather than tear me down. And so on, and so on, and so on.
Our character as leader is determinative of our influence in the lives of people. We can be tyrannical, egotistical, self-centered, threatening, abusive, demanding, frightening, and thin-skinned – and get people scurrying hither and yon to do what they’re told and to avoid the next harangue. In a limited and pathetic sense, we can be characterless and immature, and produce “influence.”
But we can’t get greatness from people this way. We won’t get their courage, their integrity, their steadfastness under pressure, their deepest code of honor, or their excellence.
Great enterprise is great because lots of people show up intent upon contributing from their greatness. Who we are as the leader – who we are in our character – determines whether people will show up in this powerful way. As the famous malapropism goes, “this isn’t rocket surgery!”