What turns a “manager” into a “leader”? Based on my experience, three things are key.
Do your leaders show humility by asking questions?
The late Peter F. Drucker said, “The leader of the past was a person who knew how to tell. The leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask.”
Organization leaders who only tell their employees what to do display arrogance and ignorance of the employee potential they’re wasting. Leaders who ask questions show humility and create opportunities to unlock their employees’ full talents and abilities.
In working with managers and executives, I ask them about their Period-to-Question-mark Ratio: “When you’re talking to your employees, for every one of your sentences that ends in a period, how many end in question-marks?” For the vast majority, it’s a huge imbalance in favor of periods.
The closer the ratio gets to one-to-one, the better. The more you ask questions (preferably open-ended exploratory, not rhetorical or cross-examination questions), the more your employees’ work becomes about them—the difference they make, the value they add and their importance to the mission. In my experience, this shift in focus produces greater levels of commitment, accountability, energy and enthusiasm—things a traditional boss can't effectively command or control.
In addition, a listening approach often generates valuable insights and ideas that benefit the organization. Although you may be the leader, it doesn't necessarily follow that you have the best ideas. Good listening will help you mine your employees’ knowledge, talent and experience.
Do your managers confront performance or behavior issues promptly and directly?
I once asked a retired company president, “What do you miss the least about your former job?”
The company president didn’t think long. He said emphatically, “What I miss the least is easy—I’ll never have to fire an employee again!”
Similar sentiments have been expressed to me by many other executives and managers. Dealing withis usually the least favorite part of their jobs. Unfortunately however, their dislike of the process typically produces avoidance. Rather than confront a problem, they ignore it until it festers and can no longer be ignored. And all too often, a relationship that began win-win ends up lose-lose.
Tenacity means that when a gap arises between expectations and performance or behavior, the manager deals with it directly—no avoidance, delays or circumnavigating. Instead of dropping the employee issue to the bottom of the agenda (or keeping it off the agenda), tenacious leaders move it to the top. As Robert Frost wrote, “The best way out is always through.”
Tenacity doesn’t mean being harsh, inflicting pain or generating high stress. Indeed, when you combine tenacity with vision and humility, you’ll be surprised at how often the confrontations you dread turning ugly end up positive and constructive. By tying the problem to the big picture—the why—and using questions to engage the employee in diagnosis and prognosis, you turn what would otherwise be a blame game into a collaborative act of problem-solving. Results include a solution to the immediate problem and a healthier relationship going forward.
Do assignments come with an explanation?
When I work with managers and executives, I ask them about their What-to-Why Ratio: “Every time you tell an employee what you want, how often do you explain why—the underlying purpose the employee’s action will serve?” I encourage managers to make this ratio one-to-one. Every “what” should come with a “why.”
When leaders combine why with what, they jettison the old school hierarchical, command and controlmodel. Instead, they foster a sense of purpose and engage their employees in a shared mission or quest. Roles and responsibilities may differ, yet both manager and employee pursue the same objectives and share the same core values.
Do you see yourself as a manager? Or do you see yourself as a leader? If it’s one or the other, why? How about combining the two and practicing HTV? That means demonstrating humility by listening vs. telling, having the tenacity to surmount obstacles and tackle problems when they arise, and doing so within a vision of a compelling future for your organization, your employees and you.
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