Sitting by the fireplace recently, I took delight in watching the fire burning brightly, the sounds of the wood crackling, and the wonderful smell emanating as it radiated warmth throughout our living room. It had taken some time to reach that point; an hour earlier the fireplace was nothing but a cold hearth. Once the fire grew in intensity, it needed only a periodic larger log to be added so it could seemingly burn at a higher rate on its own, white hot from the center of the stack.
The fire did not initially begin that way, as it needed a helping hand to slowly begin burning. If overloaded at the beginning, it would be overwhelmed and would not come to life. First, I purposely laid out smaller logs and then topped them with a row of kindling before igniting the pile. At times, it needed a few breaths of air to provide oxygen so it could gather strength and intensity; only then was it ready to have larger logs added to the mix as the temperature within climbed and thrived on its own.
As I basked in the glow of what I had created, it reminded me of a parallel with effective leadership. Some managers/supervisors believe they need be overly boisterous or to berate their team to achieve results. Some try initially to heap too much on their teams and when objectives aren’t accomplished in a timely manner, they resort to lighting a fire under people to get them going. Will that sometimes achieve team/organizational goals? Sure, but it is hardly the best way to get the most from your team. You may get compliance by barking out orders, but you are not likely to achieve optimal results, especially over an extended period. In such a situation, few would feel the need to go the extra mile and would be more apt to do the bare minimum to avoid the boss’ wrath.
Effective leaders realize that having influence over someone means lighting a fire within them; to stoke their inner drive to reach their best level of performance. Instead of yelling, screaming, or cajoling, sometimes it takes a word of encouragement to get the fire going inside of someone. Only then are they more likely to reach their full potential, along with a desire to achieve or surpass goals because they feel heard and seen, instead of operating from a place of compliance and fear.
To stoke the fire within someone, you first must understand what makes that person tick. Everyone is unique and has different motivational drivers, and it is the responsibility of the leader to identify those drivers. You must learn how to stoke their inner fire. When someone feels valued for their individual contributions and worth, they are more apt to put forth their best efforts and to be more than a mere minimalist. As the wildly successful entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash once said, “Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, 'Make me feel important.' Never forget this message when working with people.”
Be a leader who lights a fire within someone, not under them.
- Dan Mehdi, Eagle 6 Training
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