I am always in search of stories of exceptional leaders and the practices that make them special. I’m referring to everyday leaders, not the ones that get the headlines and write the books.
Some of them come, I confess, from eavesdropping as did the one I discovered at a reception. It was during a harsh Canadian winter and two fellows were chatting about the weather and their commute to work.
One said, “I’ll bet you’ll soon be asking for a transfer. You have a long and tough drive every day.”
“No way!” was the response. “Mark makes it worth the drive every day.”
Mark, I discovered was his manager, and my own thought was “Wow, what a compliment.”
I was soon pummeling the happy employee, Dave, with questions about Mark’s leadership and here’s what he told me.
“Mark sets really high standards and targets. At first I was a bit nervous and thought he was being too tough. Actually I guess I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to meet his expectations but I soon found out that he is always there to help me succeed. He coaches me regularly, gives me feedback and support if its needed between coaching sessions, makes sure I’m aware of any weaknesses but never forgets my strengths. When I achieve something he recognizes me and even lets his boss know about any of my big wins. He lets you know if he’s unhappy about something but never says it in a way that puts you down. He makes sure there is teamwork so the environment always feels good and we pull together to help each other. He is very positive and pretty high energy so it spills over to the rest of us. “ Then he summed it up, “I guess if I had to shorten it would be that he has high expectations and challenges me to grow, recognizes me when I achieve something and ensures a positive team environment. And, oh ya, really important, you know he cares. What more could you want?”
I doubt there is much in what Dave told me that any leader reading this wouldn’t already know they should be doing. But success is always in the doing and the consistency with which the positive behaviours are practiced. That’s the tough part and something this manager seemed to be committed to. Too often other priorities trump commitments to team members; coaching sessions or other one on one’s are postponed, that e-mail of recognition is set aside for another day and eventually forgotten or it becomes too late to send it. When things are postponed it suggests they are of lesser importance and by extension, the individual involved is less important.
The old adage, “People don’t care what you know unless they know that you care.” still holds true. I would add, they don’t care what you want unless they know that you care. And caring is not just being “nice”; it is reflected in all of those positive leadership practices that Dave described. Leaders who consistently demonstrate that they care make it worth their team members’ commute every day.
About the author:
Leslie Bendaly is recognized as a leading thinker and practitioner in the areas of organizational leadership, teamwork and change.
She is the founding partner of K&Co. and author of several books on leadership including on Strength in Numbers, Winner Instinct, Organization 2005, Games Teams Play and Leadership on the Run. Leslie co-authored her latest book, Improving Healthcare Team Performance: The 7 Requirements for Excellence in Patient Care with Nicole Bendaly.
Her models, tools and books are used in organizations worldwide and her books have been selected as mandatory reading for MBA and other postgraduate programs in both the U.S.A. and Canada.