One thing great managers know is the need to discover what is unique about each person and capitalise on it. As intermediaries between individuals and the company, managers perform their role well, only when they perform it one by one.
Great leaders play a different role. Their job is to rally people toward a better future. They are not the intermediaries; they are instigators. Driven by their compulsion for a better future, their challenge is to do everything within their power to get others to get on board to make this future come through.
So, they perform this role well only when they find a way to make many people excited by and confident in this better future. If through their words, actions, images, pictures, and scores, they can tap into these things we all share, they will succeed as leaders.
So while great managers discover what is unique about each person and capitalise on it, great leaders do the inverse. According to Marcus Buckingham, the one thing great leaders know they must do is this: Discover what is universal and capitalise on it.
The better you do this, the better you will lead. The effective leader, while not denying the truth that each person is different, focuses instead on an equally powerful truth: Despite our differences we all share a great deal.
The effective leader calls upon his extended empathy. He sifts through his employees' many missions until he finds the one they all share. He then reflects this shared mission back.
He picks out individuals who, today, seem to be living out his mission, and draws attention to them. He paints vivid pictures of what the future will look like if this mission is made real. He pinpoints one key metric to track everyone's progress. He reveals his hope for us and rallies us all to a better future.
And for our part, we feel a closer connection with him, a stronger sense that his vision is; in fact, our vision and a growing confidence that together we can make this shared vision come true.
Five Fears, Five Needs, One Focus
Since it is so important for the effective leader to tap into these things we all share, the obvious question becomes, "What exactly do we all share?" Buckingham believes these universals can readily be distilled down to five pairings of fears and needs.
Fear of Death - The Need for Security: In every society, we find a fear of death, rituals to commemorate death, ritual to celebrate our fertility, and prohibitions against murder and suicide. We also find marriage, kin groupings, and a strong preference for our own children and our kin, in other words, nepotism. Some of our most basic needs then stem from our urge to secure our lives and the lives of our loved ones.
Fear of the Outsider - Need for Community: Children in every society fear strangers. All societies live in groups and those groups are not based simply on family and blood ties. All societies make distinctions between those who are part of the group and those who are not and we are always biased in favour of the former. The chief purpose of law is to define the rules of membership for the group, and we devise sanctions or punishments for those who break the law and commit crimes against the collective.
Fear of the Future - The Need for Clarity: Every society has a concept of the future, and we see its possibilities. All societies have a word of hope and anticipation and a capacity for conjectural reasoning, as in "if this happens then that will follow." But every society is also anxious about the future.
We are aware that the future is unstable, unknown, and potentially dangerous. We all, on the same level, fear the future. That is why we give prestige to those people who claim to be able to predict the future.
Fear of Chaos - The Need for Authority: Out of our desire for order springs our need for authority. Having someone in charge just seems more organised than a chaotic free-for-all.
Yes this implies that we will sometimes have to submit to this person's decisions, but for the most part, we are comfortable with this trade off. We have a need to balance dominance with submission. Every society has a word for leader.
Fear of Insignificance - The Need for Respect: Every society sees the individual person as having worth and value that is distinct from the group's. Every society has a word for self-image and believes that a positive self-image is better than a negative one.
Every society espouses that to a great extent our self-image is in the hands of other people - all of us pay attention to what people think of us. Our fear is that they will not look favourably on us or worse that they will not look at us at all, that we will be insignificant in their eyes.
The more you understand the interplay of these five fears and needs in your people, the more effective a leader you will be.
However, one of them demands your greatest focus. By far the most effective way to turn fear into confidence is to be clear - to define the future in such vivid terms - through your actions, words, images, pictures, heroes, and scores - that we can all see where you, and thus we, are headed.
Clarity is the antidote to anxiety, so be clear. This does not mean you must describe in precise detail all of your tactics, plans, and deadlines. On the contrary, to keep your followers challenged and engaged you must allow them plenty of white space to invent, create, and experiment. However, your clarity will drive your followers' confidence.
Four Points of Clarity
According to Buckingham there are four areas where followers need clarity.
Who Do We Serve? You the leader must be clear about whom you choose to serve because your followers require it of you. If your followers are to go with you into the future, they need to know precisely whom they are trying to please.
It is a scary thing to try to please all the people all of the time, so, to calm their fear, they need you to narrow their focus.
Tell them who their main audience is. Tell them whom they should empathise with most closely. Tell them who will be judging their success and where to look to know if they have fulfilled the mission.
What is our Strength? If you want your people to follow you confidently into a better future tell them clearly where their core strength lies. Focused and fortified, they will do all in their power to make it come true.
What is our score? Sort through all the scores available and pick one that fits whom your people are trying to serve, or that quantifies the strength you say they possess, and that they can do something about.
Then broadcast it, publicise it, and celebrate it. Announce to your people that if they want to know how far they have come in their journey toward a better future, this is the one score in which they should place their faith. Ideally, this score will be a leading indicator of success such as employee engagement rather than trading indicator such as sales or profit.
What actions can we take today? We respond best to two distinct types of action: Systematic action and symbolic action. Systematic action interrupts our day-to-day routines and forces us to become involved in new activities. It disrupts us. Symbolic action grabs our attention. It distracts us, thereby giving us something new and vivid on which to focus. The effective leader knows how to use both to great effect.
As you try to lead your followers toward a better future remember that they need clarity and that both symbolic and systematic actions can be comfortingly clear if you can sort through all the actions available to you and identify the few that can either grab their attention or alter their routines, then their confidence in you and your better future will grow strong.
Three Disciplines of Leaders
According Marcus Buckingham effective leaders develop three disciplines in their quest for clarity:
Discipline 1: Take time to reflect. The best leaders take time to muse and reflect. This thinking time is valuable for it forces them to process all that has happened and in the end to draw conclusions as to project clarity.
Discipline 2: Select your heroes with great care. Effective leaders select their heroes carefully. Here we are not referring to their role models or whom they admire, but to those employees whose performance they choose to celebrate. If you want to predict the future behaviour of any community of people, look to its heroes - to the people and events it chooses to revere.
Discipline 3: Practice: The best leaders practise the words, the images, and the stories they will use to help followers perceive the future more clearly. The most effective leaders don't try to come up with newer and better speeches; instead, having practised and refined their speech, they seek out new and bigger audiences. They revert back to the words, images, and phrasing that work for them.
Effective leaders don't have to be passionate, charming, or brilliant. What they must be is clear. Clarity is most likely to engender in followers confidence, persistence, resilience and creativity.
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