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
A few weeks ago, I was coordinating a leadership class with first-line supervisors and the discussion turned to accountability.
We look at accountability from two different but equally important lenses.
The first is for the individual to take responsibility and be accountable for their actions. Ultimately, this is what we all want. The onus is on the employee to do the right thing.
The next is for the individual’s boss to hold this person accountable. Do you know who wants this the most? The individual’s coworkers. Nothing frustrates people more than a fellow employee who is not held accountable for their actions, especially when it is a performance issue.
The question asked during this training, and something that regularly comes up is how. How do we hold people accountable?
When I think about an answer, I think about communication. Is your vision clearly communicated? Is the work or task clearly communicated? You cannot hold people accountable when the communication is broken.
Some other suggestions about communication -
For some of you, this is hard. It will get easier if you break each of these down and focus on your communication.
The good news is once you develop this culture of accountability, people will work harder and even hold each other accountable. It has a snowball effect on the organization and, ultimately, the culture.
Behavior drives culture.
- Brian Townsend, Eagle 6 Training
"I don't want any problems." I remember that line distinctly as he repeated it more than once and made it clear that was how he envisioned his role as the team leader. Sadly, that was the first speech to our group from a supervisor I once worked for in law enforcement.
It was not lost on me, nor on my co-workers, that this supervisor-I cannot refer to him in any manner as a leader-made no mention of doing all he could to support us in our mission or to aid in our development. We did not believe he was fostering a culture of openness or honesty. We did not trust that he cared about anything other than how he was perceived by his supervisor(s).
Trust, a driving component of effective leadership, is gained when the led believe their leader has their best interests at heart and wants to do everything possible to ensure that they are able to effectively carry out their responsibilities. As a leader, have you earned that type of trust from your subordinates? If so, it is more likely your team will put forth their best efforts and will also inform you of potential pitfalls affecting organizational success. If you have not earned the trust of your team, you are setting yourself up for the possibility of being blindsided by a larger crisis which may have been avoided or mitigated had your team trusted you enough to highlight shortcomings.
“Take care of your Marines, and they will take care of you,” was a leadership principle drilled into me while training to be an Infantry Platoon Commander in the early 1990s. It is timeless advice which carries over to any organization, military or otherwise. It boiled down to the Marines wanting to put forth their best efforts to ensure mission success when they trusted their leaders cared about their development, both personal and professional.
It is the same sentiment expressed by the late Colin Powell when he said “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
By creating an atmosphere of trust and honesty amongst your team members, it is more likely that you will be able to handle smaller issues before they become bigger problems. It is incumbent on you, as the leader, to foster a culture in which you are able to gain the trust of those you’re privileged to lead.
- Dan Mehdi, Eagle 6 Training
Years ago, I spoke to a few thousand people. I can still remember standing on that stage. Nervous does not describe how I felt. I was terrified.
Edward R. Murrow, a broadcast journalist with more than 30 years of experience, said, “the best speakers know enough to be scared…the only difference between the pros and the novices is that the pros have trained the butterflies to fly in formation.”
He was right, but it is easier said than done. I got through that speech for one reason. I practiced. I practiced a lot. I practiced so much that the words came to me. Very naturally and seemingly unrehearsed.
I have given a lot of speeches since that day and now teach a class called Platform Skills to help people with public speaking. What is the theme of this class? You guessed it: plan, prepare, and… practice. Practice is key.
Nervous or terrified like I was? Practice.
Say ah and um a lot? Practice.
There are some basic rules for public speaking, such as knowing your audience. While important, what separates good speakers from everyone else is their ability to train the butterflies. To take the rules and important lessons and make it all look effortless. This is done through practice. Lots of practice.
I can think of a lot of stories to illustrate this point but one of my favorites is that of Usain Bolt. Usain Bolt was an Olympic sprinter from Jamaica who won eight gold medals in three Olympic games. In the Olympic finals, he ran 114 seconds. That is less than 2 minutes to win eight gold medals and the millions of dollars that resulted from it.
For those 2 minutes, he practiced for 20 years.
Public speaking, sports, everything, is about the time you put into it. Success does not happen because of one day or one event; it happens because of the time you put into it to make it successful.
Consider these suggestions:
Your audience took their time to listen to you so give them what they deserve: your best. Will you still be scared? Probably. I know I was. But practice got me through it and practice can help you train your butterflies.
- Brian Townsend, Eagle 6 Training
I worked in a chain of command years ago that required weekly meetings. We started every Monday morning this way. We sometimes spent all morning in these meetings. While the concept was well-intentioned, I would have few takeaways each week.
We wasted a lot of time and time is too valuable to waste. If your organization is like mine was, we were continually being asked to do more with less.
It was because of this experience that I focused on how I would efficiently utilize meetings when I was in charge.
The first thing I would consider is why I needed a meeting. As much as I appreciate face-to-face communication, email was quicker, more efficient, and most of the time, just made more sense for most of the information I needed to share. Because of this, when I did hold meetings, it held more importance.
At times however, it was the delivery that was important. I wrote about this recently in a blog called “conduit of information.” The same advice I offered there goes for meetings: You can influence whether priorities and initiatives are accepted and implemented during in person meetings and sometimes the importance of the information can get “lost” if communicated during a phone call or in an email.
When COVID happened, in-person meetings shifted entirely. As a result of COVID restrictions, face-to-face no longer necessarily meant “in the same room.” Now, video calls or conference calls were all that many of us had available for meetings.
In 2023, we appear to be moving away from COVID protocols and meeting colleagues in person is back. Even if your company has continued remote-work options, we still need to rethink each meeting and how important meetings are to achieve our goals.
Consider these suggestions for more productive meetings:
It is important to control the meeting. If things go offtrack, get them back on. If people are conducting business that does not involve the meeting, have them continue elsewhere. Take control of the meetings and make them productive. You must control the meeting.
And finally, decide who needs to be in the meeting. This sounds simple, but I could not count the number of times people were required to attend meetings that had no reason to be there. In the previously mentioned weekly meetings, everyone had to speak. Whether or not you had anything to say did not matter. Forcing someone to speak, especially when they had nothing to contribute, is a waste of time.
If you are expected to manage people and resources, be good at it. Be intentional in all that you do. Your time is your responsibility. As a manager, your ability to make time meaningful for your team is your responsibility, too. In 2023, try to be deliberate, be thoughtful about why and how you will conduct meetings.
- Brian Townsend, Eagle 6 Training