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.
No one ever wants to be considered a drip. But sometimes being a drip is the best way to lead. My friend and mentor Jerry Martin use to tell me that when I wanted to move others to a new place I had to drip on them. You see just as a slow drip of water, overtime, can wear away rock, simple and gentle persuasion can move people farther along a desired path than being hammered by our position, power or authority. This is because when we drip, we allow people the opportunity to see, understand and then embrace change instead of having changed beaten into them. And whenever people embrace change, they own it. And owning it people move from simple compliance to serious commitment. And serious commitment is the key ingredient in any organization that intends to do remarkable and impactful work. Now admittedly there are times when we need to hammer, especially when safety, significant loss or when there’s clear moral and ethical failure. Most often in these situations there is very little time to drip, decisive leadership’s needed. But, in a leader’s work, these moments are the exception not the norm. And if a leader uses the dripping of gentile persuasion as their primary way to lead, when the moment calls for decisive action they’ve created the credibility and trust needed to move people with commitment and speed. Learning to lead through dripping is also critical to leading those who do not report to you or in whom you have no positional or organizational authority. Effective leaders must learn to persuade and move others who are not required to move. So at SpringHill, we want to be drips, which mean we want to lead through persuasion and influence, so that people move from compliance to commitment, and move our organizations from average to remarkable.
“Winning the right to be heard” is another maxim I learned in my years as a volunteer Young Life leader. It simply meant, as leaders, we worked to have students granted us the opportunity to share the Gospel with them. We’d do this first by going to where they were at (physically, emotionally, socially) and building authentic, caring relationships with them. As a Young Life leader I found this maxim to be true, students were significantly more interested in what I had to say only after I demonstrated that I cared for them first.
Stephen Covey, in his classic book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, identifies this “win the right to be heard” concept as 5th of his seven habits. He called it “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Covey articulates this fundamental truth about human nature – people care about what others have to say only after believing others care for first. And what better way to demonstrate care for another person than to understand their perspective before trying to convince them to move to a different position.
As a leader in a non-profit organization, I’ve found that winning the right to be heard is absolutely the most effective way to move others to a new place. Why? Because non-profits have many constituent groups (including staff, donors, board, volunteers) to whom I lead and, at some level, I also work for and am accountable to. This means I can’t rely solely on my “positional” authority to move people in a new direction. And, more importantly, if I’m after commitment not compliance, then I’m compelled to seek first to understand before I’m understood, because people become committed when they know they’ve been heard.
And this principle is at the center of leadership at SpringHill – to go where we believe God’s called us to go, to be the kind of organization He’s called us to be – we need to earn people’s commitment to our mission and vision, we need their hearts, minds and resources to be with us. And to gain that level of trust, people need to sense first that we know, hear and care for them first as people.43.928283-85.286682
Any successful venture requires more than the people involved to be compliant, it demands their deep commitment. Why? Because there’s a significantly different impact these two groups of people have on an organization. For example:
- Do the minimally acceptable level of work.
- Just get by.
- Always ask first – what’s in it for me?
- Resist change because change is hard.
- Stagnate and quit growing.
Compared to committed people who:
- Do what is beneficial and necessary even if it means going beyond the job’s minimal requirements.
- Go over and beyond the call of duty.
- Always ask first – what’s best for the team?
- Initiate change because change is necessary.
- Are always learning, growing and developing.
Compliant people make for minimally acceptable organizations that just get by.
Organizations full of committed people do extraordinary work that positively impacts the lives of people and the world. They’re organizations that others emulated and where the best people want to work. Because of this, these organizations create what I call mission momentum, where they’re growing exponentially in their impact as well as in their reach.
So what are the keys to creating a team of highly committed people? Assuring the following four elements are a reality:
- Clarity of mission, vision, and values (answers to the 6 key questions)
- Integrity between the articulated mission, vision and values and the organizations actual behavior
- Transparency of information, roles, responsibilities, performance, and accountability
- And when these three elements are a reality in an organization they lead to high trust. And high trust is the foundation a high commitment culture.
So, as leaders, never settle for simple compliance. Do the hard work of gaining commitment of the people you lead. The payback will be great for you and your team.43.928283-85.286682
At the end of 2012 I had a physical exam. And as I expected everything turned out fine except my cholesterol levels. I anticipated that my LDL cholesterol might be high because of our family history and because, over the last few years, I’ve committed the two sins of managing cholesterol – eating whatever I wanted to and not exercising consistently (thus my weight was also at an all-time high).
So when the doctor suggested I go on medication I told him I wanted six months to straighten out my eating and exercise regimen to see if I could correct my high cholesterol naturally. He agreed, so I have until June to see if I can improve my cholesterol levels.
Now, even though I won’t find out until June if my cholesterol has lowered, I have had other, more visible, gains. For example I’ve lost 18 pounds and reduced my mile splits (running is my exercise of choice) by minute and a half. As a matter of fact it seems that the more weight I lose the faster I run and the faster I run the more weight I loose.
You see my physical health is now experiencing positive momentum. But before I started to focus on my health, its momentum, I have to admit, was steadily, but discernibly, going in the wrong direction.
This got me to thinking; my health momentum parallel’s an organization’s momentum. And just like my health, organizations are either going forward or going backward, they’re never standing still.
And like taking charge of my health, a leader’s job is to build the organization’s forward momentum.
But as I’ve learned over the last few months, reversing downward momentum is hard work. It requires goals, investment, focus, discipline, constant and timely feedback on performance, and the tenacity to stay with it until the momentum’s reversed and beginning to go in the right direction.
So what’s the momentum of your health, your life, the organization or team you lead? If it’s headed in the wrong direction maybe it’s time to do what’s required to get that positive momentum going again before you have to take the hard medicine.43.928283-85.286682