Today’s post is an excerpt from the draft of my upcoming book One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. Sure, publication is a ways off (target is fall of ’11) but I want to share a taste of what will be in the book.
Please become a fan of One Piece of Paper on Facebook (and invite your friends/colleagues to do the same). By becoming a fan you’ll have the latest updates on the book’s release and also get to see samples of it before it lands in stores. Some of you will even win a free copy of the book.
All that said, here’s a sample about how to think about leading your people:
People “situations” can be frustrating and confusing. We have a hard time having difficult conversations. Those conversations are difficult because we are the bearers of bad news, corrective actions, and feedback. That feedback generally causes people to feel like they do not measure up as a person when in fact our assessments should be focused on the actions, not the person.
We need something to lean on to help us through those tough situations. Creating personal leadership maxims for how you want to lead your people helps you manage those difficult situations and conversations. A maxim is nothing more than a rule of behavior or conduct you want to follow. You can write your own set of maxims and use them in a variety of situations. Today I’ll share an example of one of my maxims and how it helped out with a difficult conversation.
Maxims set expectations with your team members for how you will treat them. They provide you a solid foundation for building consistency into your behaviors and reactions to unpleasant situations. If you have written your maxim well and communicated it clearly to your team, there are no surprises when those unpleasant situations arise. Here’s an example of how maxims can help you through a tough spot:
When I was a young platoon leader I had two maxims that I shared with my soldiers: “Work hard. Be honest.” It could not have been any simpler. One day one of my soldiers violated my “work hard and be honest” maxims. When I called him on the carpet for his egregious transgression I asked him “what am I going to say?”
“You’re going to remind me we all agreed to work hard and be honest sir.”
“You’re going to point out I failed to do that sir and I’ll tell you you’re right. Then you’re going to tell me I’m subject to disciplinary action. Next you’re going to recommend I get busted down a rank.”
“And what do you think about all that?”
“I think it’s fair and it’s the right thing to do sir.”
The maxim was so simple, clear, and well-communicated this soldier was able to accurately predict my reaction because he knew my standards and had bought into them. If I had not shared those maxims with him prior to the lapse in behavior I would have had to explain my standards, his failure to meet them, and the fairness of his punishment all in that moment. That would have been a much tougher conversation to have than the one above where he took care of the discipline himself. Providing transparency and consistency to your team does wonders for making interactions smooth and peaceful.
To create your maxims, you need to explore how you want to interact with those individuals. This self-examination requires you to figure out what you want to stand for and what your team should expect from you in every interaction. You must also think about how you will build their skills and capabilities. Yes, that is a lot to think about. It is even harder to articulate. This is where I have seen many leadership philosophies turn into a mush of flowery crap that has no meaning. You are striving for clarity. You need simplicity to achieve that.
Answering four straightforward questions can help you define a powerful set of maxims for leading your people. Those questions are:
• What is your natural style?
• How will you remember they are individuals?
• How will you stay connected to your team’s reality?
• How will you commit to their growth?
The maxims you create to describe how you will lead your people will govern your day-to-day interactions with members of your team. When you define these maxims you will articulate aspects of your style that are comfortable and effective for you.
You will create maxims to remind you to treat your team members with respect both for who they are as individuals as well as for the work they do on a daily basis. Finally, you will generate maxims to help you remember to take risks on your people and give them opportunities to grow their skills, experiences, and careers.
By answering these four questions you will create a team environment where people feel comfortable, valued, and challenged. You likely often hear a great deal about how important “employee engagement” is. If you write these maxims well and live them every day you will have some of the most engaged employees you have ever seen.
Again, this is but a taste of the book. I hope you enjoyed it. Come become a fan of One Piece of Paper on Facebook and watch the whole book publication process unfold before your eyes.