Leaders multiply. They do more than just add. Adding is a good thing. Contributing to a team’s efforts is always positive. But leaders multiply a team’s efforts and results. And obviously leaders do not subtract, if you subtract from a team or organization then you’re something else, but you’re not a leader.
Multiplication is the distinctive characteristic of leaders. It’s what sets them apart from those who do not lead. What does it mean to multiply? It’s when a person leads a team to produce an outcome beyond the simple accumulated results (addition) of the efforts of individual team members. Leaders multiply their team’s collective efforts and achieve extraordinary, and unexpected, results.
And to be clear, I believe multiplying leadership isn’t just for people in formal leadership positions. Instead any person, in any role, who is part of a purpose centered group like a family, community, school, or church can be a multiplying leader. As a matter I’m convinced it should always be our goal to be a multiplier in every situation we’re in.
This idea of multiplying leadership isn’t new. As a matter of fact, Jesus talks about it in the parable of the talents found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25. In this parable the Master entrusted his four stewards with His money while He was away. Three stewards multiplied the Master’s money so the Master said to them – “well done good and faithful servant”. This parable harkens us back to the very first assignment God gave His people – “be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
This is why I see multiplication as the distinguishing quality, the sure sign of effective leadership. It’s also why I’ve given this blog a new address – Leadership25 – a direct reminder of Jesus’ parable and His expectation that all of us can and should be multipliers, leaders making a positive difference in the lives of others and in the world.
But the temptation for leaders (those people already leading parades) is to jump in front of and lead every parade that comes by. This is especially tempting when a parade looks like it needs help. The reason leaders do this is because they are people who have the habit of seeing an opportunity to be a difference maker and then jumping in and taking charge of the parade. Often this is just the right thing to do as a leader – because there are many parades desperate for experienced leadership.
But a leader can be too quick to jump in front of another parade. When they do so they often fail to realize they’re taking an opportunity away from a future leader in waiting. Young and inexperienced leaders can rarely compete with veteran parade leaders for these opportunities. But without opportunities it’s difficult to become an experienced parade leader. And the truth is the world needs more veteran parade leaders.
So the next time a parade comes by, make sure your first move isn’t to slide to the front and start leading the band, but instead to look around and find potential leaders who need experience as a parade leader. Then encourage them to jump in front while you walk with them along the parade route encouraging, coaching, supporting, and cheering this new leader on as he or she guides the parade. This will do two important things – first provide you margin and flexibility just in case another parade comes along that really needs you and, second, help ready another parade leader for a world desperate for leadership.
It’s the day after the 2014 mid-term elections and I’m reminded once again by the importance trust plays in the relationship between leaders and those who choose to follow. In politics, it seems, we’ve become obsessed with what I call Ethical Trust. Ethical Trust’s built when people share the same core values and the same fundamental beliefs about the world. It’s a powerful trust that drives so much of our political process. And, for sure, it’s the most important trust. It’s hard to follow a leader where there’s little or no ethical trust.
But because it’s the most important trust, we tend to believe it’s the only trust a leader needs. But it’s not. A leader needs, and a potential follower should demand, a second absolutely essential trust. You see it’s one thing to have Ethical Trust but there’s another kind of trust built on making good on the implied promises Ethical Trust makes. This second trust is what I call Competency Trust. It’s the trust that comes when a leader can and actually meets or exceeds performance expectations and delivers on their commitments. They deliver because of their experience, ability and will to succeed. Too often we vote for and elect officials (or put our hope in leaders) based only on Ethical Trust and we forget to ask – “can they actually deliver on our shared values and beliefs?”
So both Ethical and Competency Trusts are absolutely essential for a leader to succeed. Because earning the full and complete trust of those who choose to follow is the only way effective leadership happens. And without trust there is no leadership, only management, dictatorship, or simply ineffectiveness.
So whether you’re a leader, or choosing to follow one, never accept just one kind of trust, if you do, you’ll either disappoint or be disappointed because the job will not get done.
“I just played my last high school soccer game” our son, Jonathan, said amidst tears and hugs from teammates, classmates, parents, and coaches. Tis the season of lasts for our youngest son as he finishes his last year of high school. Being a 4 sport athlete and highly involved in the life of his school, Jonathan knows he has some more lasts before his year’s done. So based on the sadness he felt after his last soccer game I think he’s already dreading the next major last.
So on our way home from his last game I reminded Jonathan that a season of lasts doesn’t last forever. In fact a last of something means a first for something else. Though I acknowledged to him that early in the season of lasts it’s not always clear what the new first will be. For example Jonathan knows he’ll be going to college, which is comforting at a certain level, but he doesn’t know where. And not having a clear and specific picture of the first can make the season of lasts most difficult.
Yet once there’s clarity about the new first – in this case where Jonathan will be attending college, it’s easy to move from the sadness and loss to excitement about the promise that new first brings. But the key is finding that new first, to have a real and tangible plan beyond the last last. The more specific the plan, the easier it is to have the lasts feel like they’re giving birth to the new first instead of bringing an end to all things good and happy. That’s why this week Jonathan, Denise and I are making our first official college visits. Not to run away from the lasts but to put them into a different light, a light of a new first.
Now this all sounds really good as I’m saying it to a 17-year-old but here’s the real test of my fatherly advice – with Jonathan being our last child it also means Denise and I are also experiencing a season of lasts. After nine high school soccer seasons as a parent, Jonathan’s last game was also our last soccer game, his last basketball game will also be ours, his last day of school will be ours. I’ll admit I’m very sad about it all and already feel the loss that having no kids in school will bring to our lives.
Yet now it’s time for Denise and me to heed our own advice and have a plan and envision a life as “empty nesters”, and to discover our next first. What will it be? I don’t know but I’m excited to find out.
I don’t like lots of policies and rules, especially when they’re detailed, specific and inflexible. They’re like rocks. A few provide healthy boundaries, too many will weigh a leader and an organization down. Unfortunately people who struggle leading others will revert to policy and rules to do their leading. But policies and rules can’t truly lead; only people can. So when leaders rely on them to do their job, they’ll find that these rocks will cause a growing distance between actual and potential performance (or what I call the Performance Gap).
You see policies and rules are for managing not for leading. And, as I often tell my team, you manage things (time, money, etc.) but you lead people. Managing people instead of leading them will cause them to feel like a resource, tool or a cog in a machine, instead as a unique and gifted human being, capable of making a tremendous impact in the world for good. Being treated as a cog will result in uninspired and low committed people – again leading to that dreaded Performance Gap.
Often policies and rules come into existence because of one bad situation or one bad person. Instead of addressing the situation there’s a policy written with the belief it’ll help assure that the situation doesn’t happen again. unfortunately what the leader is really doing is adding one more rock to the backs of the talented and committed people who didn’t need nor deserve the policy in the first place. Again this pushes open the organization’s Performance Gap.
On the other hand, where there’s good leadership, there’ll be talented and committed people who are clear on the organizations values, mission and goals, and the roles they play in helping achieve those goals. This combination of commitment, talent and clarity puts people in the place to make the right decisions at the right time without requiring the answers to be spelled out in black and white. Lots of policies and rules are for rulers not for leaders and great organizations need great leaders, not managers, so that there’s never a Performance Gap.
Winning and being on top is a great place to be personally and organizationally. There’s nothing like setting challenging goals, working hard to achieve them and then enjoying the sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing you and your team have won.
Yet this place is one of the most dangerous places to be. We’re at our most vulnerable because winning and being on top is a very slippery and deceptive place.
It’s slippery because no organization, team, or person wins all the time, nor sit on top forever (trust me I know this because I’m a Michigan football fan). This means we can never plan on or expect our lofty perch to last forever. There’s always a fall, a stumble or loss along the way.
And this is exactly why being on top is so deceptive. The longer we’re on top the more it feels like it will last forever, that our organization is somehow immune to whatever causes others to lose or fail. We even begin to feel that we’ve earned the right to be in this place regardless of what we do going forward. We may even admit intellectually that this can’t last forever. Yet too often we never allow this intellectual ascent to descend into our heart and our emotional being. The result is we never truly change our behavior or our direction until we find ourselves no longer on top.
So what can we do to protect ourselves and our organizations when we’re winning or sitting on top?
Play and Lead as if we’re behind.
We need to work as if the wolves are nipping at our heals, the barbarians are at the gate, that impending doom is sitting at our door. We can do this by always setting new goals, tougher standards, and expecting more from ourselves and our teams. If necessary, as leaders, we may need to find or create a crisis that reminds everyone that we’re much more vulnerable than we feel.
Or sometimes it’s as simple as giving all the naturally pessimistic people on our team a voice and really listening to that voice. When we’re on top we lose our sense of urgency about change. Our job as leaders is to create that urgency again, in ourselves and in others. And finally we can never allow ourselves and our teams to make decisions from the perspective of being at the top. The only perspective in which we should make decisions is in the light of being behind.
Finally, whatever we do, we cannot allow ourselves and our team to trust that feeling we have when we’re on top. Instead always, always we need to feel, play and lead as if we’re behind.
Sometimes I quote the chorus of the U2 song, “Stuck in a Moment You can’t Get Out of”, to my kids. They know exactly why I say it and what it means. It means if they feel stuck they need to find options. In other words I encourage them to never allow themselves to be stuck, handcuffed or trapped in a situation, place or relationship because they think they have no way out or no place to go.
You see the reality is when we’re “stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it” it’s almost always a state of mind, not the truth of our situation. And the more we feel stuck or trapped, the harder it is for us to see there could be alternatives. When we have options we’re not truly stuck, even if it feels that way. And, from my experience, we rarely have zero options.
So here are four things I’ve learned that help me get unstuck:
- Keep an open mind, always believe there’s another way, place or option. Don’t ever give up this belief.
- Think creatively. What may seem impossible is usually more possible than it looks at first glance.
- Seek out other perspectives from people not stuck in your moment. They often see the options more clearly and quickly than we do.
- Don’t seek input from those stuck with you. They’ll only reinforce your sense of having no options.
Remember your options will most likely be less than perfect. You’re not trying to find nirvana, just someplace better than your current situation. Think of it as just one step to a better place along a path to the best place.
And here’s how it all works – when you identify your options, you now have a choice. By definition, having a choice means you’re free, and when you’re free you’re no long stuck in a moment you can’t get out of.
The weather report was calling for heavy rain beginning about midnight. It was our 5th day on the AT, and my son, MD, and I were standing outside one of the many hostels along the trail. MD’s plan called for us to keep hiking further up the trail and stay at a rustic camp spot. But because of the weather report we had to decide – stick with the plan and keep hiking, or stay at the hostel?
As I mentioned in my last post, MD had a well thought out plan for our trip. He knew where we would camp each night, how far we’d walk each day, where we’d leave our car and how we would get to the starting point. He was even thoughtful enough to send me a copy of the plan before we left so I’d be fully in the loop.
But unfortunately I didn’t look at his itinerary very closely (actually not at all) nor did I do any research about where we’d be hiking, what places we’d pass, even what the names of our planned campsites. There was no excuse for me not having a clue about this section of the AT, with MD’s written plan and all the details about every section of the AT readily available on-line and in books. So there I was standing in front of the hostel, with no clue, trying to help us make this decision.
Late in the day, after deciding to keep hiking, we found ourselves stumbling around in the light of dusk, trying to find this remote campsite. I was once again little help because I just wasn’t familiar with the details of the trail or the plan.
In other words I didn’t do my homework as good leaders (and followers) must do.
You see, when leaders don’t do their homework they can’t contribute to their team’s decision quality, potentially hindering success. In our case, it all turned out fine because of MD’s good plan. But what I did by not doing my homework was lay all the responsibility for our trip’s success on my son’s shoulders. That wasn’t right or fair. Because I was a part of the trip I owed it to him to have done my homework so when the circumstances called for it I could help us make the best decisions possible.
The lesson learned? Good leaders and followers must do their homework so, the situation calls for it; they’re ready to help their teams make the best decisions possible.
The AT has a very simple trail marking system. It’s a white line painted on trees or posts along the trail. So hiking the AT requires nothing more than looking up for white markers, looking down so you don’t trip over any rocks, and looking around at the incredible beauty along the way. Not much daily strategizing if you have a good plan as my son, MD, did.
You see MD spent a lot of time planning out the trip. He created a great itinerary for my week with him as well as his three weeks on his own. He did a lot of research, talked to people who had hiked the AT, and reviewed his thinking with others. All this work fed into a great plan.
So while on the trail we spent little time figuring out where we were going each day, or calculating how far we’d walk, etc. The plan was good and unless conditions changed there was no reason to spend any time rehashing it. Instead we just got up, packed our gear and followed those white markers to our next camp site, enjoying the trail and the people we met on the way.
It reminded me of the temptation we have to continually want to rehash and revisit well thought out plans. People like to arm-chair quarterback, to debate and to continually question where a team, department or organization is going and how they’re getting there. Some people also have a high need to change, tweak and continually adjust a plan, in an effort to find perfection.
But when you have a good plan, this additional work brings little value to the process or end results. Too often it keeps people from focusing on the immediate, day-to-day work, the plan requires. And, more importantly, the extra work distracts us from the joy, adventure, and relationships that the journey of making the plan a reality brings.
I knew better. I knew the two most important pieces of gear I would use on the AT were my shoes and my pack. With everything else I could make some compromises, but not on shoes and packs. They had to be right. If they weren’t right my 7 day experience would be painful and exhausting. And unlike tents or stoves, shoes and packs have to fit correctly. In other words, you have to assure they’re customize to your body and walking style to function well. For instance I bought and broke in a pair Montrail shoes months before the trip. They were high rated trail running and hiking shoes which also fit me well.
On the other hand, I borrowed my pack from a good friend. It’s a quality pack but I never bothered to have it fitted correctly. I only began trying adjusting the straps while standing anxiously at the trail head getting ready to embark on our adventure. Not a very smart move considering my friend is taller and broader shouldered than I am.
So I spent the first four days desperately trying to adjust my pack so it sat properly on my hips and shoulders, all the while each of my shoulders, in turn, became sorer by the hour. Finally, I rigged up the straps with some string I brought (the Boy Scout in me) to hold them in relatively the right position. In the end the pack never quite fit right even after all my MacGyver moves which lead to a very sore body.
What’s the leadership lesson in all this? Well there are two, and you already know what they are. First, make sure you and your team have the right gear to do their job. It needs to be quality gear designed specifically for the work to be done. And second, the gear must meet the needs (style, environment, etc.) of the individual using them. The gear needs to be as personalized as possible. If you follow these two lessons – quality gear, personalized for the person using it – then work will be less painful and you and your team will be less likely to leave the trail early.