You manage things but you lead people, says author Stephen Covey. I believe he is right. Good leaders make you want to be good followers. I wrote similar words on these pages about a year ago, in our last leadership issue. Indeed, being a good leader means doing the right thing. By the time you reach a position of leadership, you know what the right thing is, right? To guide the less certain among us, here are a couple examples of people doing the right thing, if in extreme ways.
In a recent book, In pursuit of elegance, Mathew May dissects what makes a company or product elegant, and hence, better. The book highlights leaders doing the right thing in unusual ways. The message in a nutshell is that what’s missing in a product can be as important what is there. One example is Steve Job’s insistence on simplicity. The Apple iPhone has touch screens that hide the keyboard until needed and a design that can is often used with one hand. It’s elegant.
Another leadership example came from a French auto-parts manufacturer. In the late 1980s, the company’s organizational chart might have looked like a tower of blocks. If there was a question regarding production, a worker would respond with, “Talk to my boss.” Responsibility always laid elsewhere. A new president rearranged the organizational chart into a flat, horizontal arrangement for all the workers, and a dot above that for himself. The change made everyone responsible to the customer. It fixed late deliveries and slowed turnover. He did away with the personnel department and depended on employees for new hires.
So, in the spirit of constant improvement (By the way, it’s an idea that came out of the U.S. government to boost production in World War II), we offer these simple leadership observations:
Bring your people up to speed. Help them learn what they need to know, even if it’s something that will take years. Just because someone has an engineering degree does not mean they are adept or skilled in the idiosyncrasies of your company’s design. A boss from years past was a self-made man, no college, quite competent, and justly proud of his experience and accomplishments. But he did not want to share his experience and so left his assistants floundering and bewildered. He was rarely around when needed but always there to criticize.
A more recent supervisor (he lives 2,000 mi from the office) is fond of providing goals and letting staff figure out the details. He encourages questions and responds with positive, useful answers. About his only admonishment is: Don’t fail alone.
Don’t micro-manage. You just make yourself a pain in the butt. The smartest woman I know struggled with a supervisor who wanted to get her fingers into most every assignment. Because of the unnecessary involvement, projects and tasks were rarely completed on time or to the supervisor’s satisfaction.
If you give someone a task, be sure to back them up with support, guidance, and an open door. Most people are quite capable in what they do, even in projects that take them out of their comfort zone.
Ask the supervisor lots of questions. This shows leadership in followers. One assistant is always asking questions, mostly because she is relatively new. I find the questions refreshing.
Take advantage of everyone. Somewhere in your company, talent is going to waste, and it needs only a little encouragement to show itself. WPE
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