Sunday, May 18, 2008

Take the Time to Learn People's Names

On Friday, my wife and I attended an awards ceremony at my daughter's high school. The student presenter went through about a hundred names, and as far as I could tell she mispronounced only two. For one of those, she recognized the mistake and apologized as the student walked across the stage. I was impressed. That was a difficult task. I could not do nearly as well.

In contrast, I was at an employee meeting of a previous company. The head of HR had to give out about fifteen awards. He messed up the names of half the people. I imagine them thinking, "Thanks for the recognition, but could you just learn who I am?"

It is easier to get people to follow you if they know you care about them. If you can't be bothered to learn the names of the people on your team, they can be certain you don't care much for them.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Seeds of Leadership

When asked about key leadership traits, I respond with characteristics such as initiative, confidence, big-picture thinking, and pride of ownership. Then I realize that my list describes how individuals approach their personal efforts. These traits don't directly relate to how a person leads others. Nevertheless, I keep coming back to these ideas as fundamental to what I mean when I talk about leadership.

Certainly these types of traits are important to the success of a leader: They provide the motivation for a person to enlist a team to larger successes than they could accomplish themselves, and they are valuable tools to leading others successfully. But, even folks who would never think of taking the lead are more effective personally when they show initiative, have confidence, look at the big picture, and take pride of ownership.

I think these traits may be the seeds of leadership skills; fundamental kernels of approach that engender others to want to follow someone. I have seen many people who have a strong desire to lead others, but somehow have been unable to get others to follow them. They tell me about reading books, studying other leaders, and trying new approaches, all with little success. I see them struggle and fight to get others to follow them on a project. They are often successful through pure drive alone, but their teams don't follow willingly, effectively, or joyfully.

This may be why I keep falling back on these personal seeds of leadership in my descriptions. I have seen group leadership techniques fail, while shy-but-charismatic people can't seem to find time to work on their own projects because their teammates are constantly coming to them for leadership. People with these leadership traits seem to be forced to the front, even though they don't want to be.

So, if you are working hard to become a leader, looking to climb the corporate ladder, or are eager for others to follow your lead, look first to your personal character. The techniques for getting others to follow you grow from your approach to your own work. Leading others can be taught; learning to lead yourself is a more difficult exercise.