We can get enamored with the latest leadership fad, but true leaders focus on the specific needs of those they are leading.
By Roy Goble
Put People First
Leadership techniques and tricks work … until they don’t.
The first time it was my job to lead a staff every day, I was all of twenty-three. The material from my management courses was fresh in my memory. I had dog-eared textbooks and highlighted notebooks filled with axioms, laws and flow charts. I had popular books by all the business gurus of the day.
However, my results were far from perfect—which, as we know, is business-speak for “pretty bad.”
Basically, nothing I tried was effective in motivating my staff. Sure, some of what I tried worked some of the time—but I always felt like I needed more. A new technique. An insightful thought experiment. A fresh way to pitch things to my employees. And as soon as that grew old, it was back to my supply of management techniques. I could never seem to locate the magic technique that would solve all of our issues.
Turns out, I simply needed time, perspective and experience in order to realize there is no magic technique, even though leaders are constantly being sold the promise of one. Years passed, and as I dumbed my way into actually leading—rather than reading and talking about leading—I learned a second vital truth.
Management techniques are addictive.
The problems we face in our organizations are very real, so it’s natural to search for answers. Because we want answers so badly, we’re predisposed to believe whoever is selling them … and we can never get enough.
We’ve all seen blog and book titles like “Five Fast Ways to Tune Up Your Team” or “Why Saying No Helps You Say Yes.” But if we’re going to be that obtuse, how about “Staff Management Tips from Pro Wrestling” or “How to Use Jargon to Confuse Your Team and Consolidate Your Leadership.” Point is, we could read those blogs and books forever and never be satisfied—and our teams would still have issues.
We’re basically talking about narcotics in the form of hardcover books. The periodic rush of gambling via weekly leadership e-mails. And like any addictive substance, the effectiveness of any management technique decays over time. The second or fifth time you apply Gary Guru’s Patented S.T.A.F.F. Technique (Smile with Teeth, Always Face Forward) at a meeting, your coworkers stop thinking you value their input and start getting creeped out.
Over time, colleagues and employees begin to get wise to the tricks you’re using. Heck, you begin to get wise to the tricks you’re using! So you need another dose of fresh ideas, then another, then another.
There’s even a spiritual-industrial complex—yes, it’s a real thing—that gets church leaders hooked on how to build large, growth-oriented churches. Hire an entertaining pastor (tattoos are a bonus) and a worship band that sounds (and looks) like Coldplay, buy at least one fog machine and three espresso machines, and always have tons of parking. Make sure you have an airy, modern and well-appointed worship center. And most important, go to multiple conferences and retreats each year in order to keep up with the latest and greatest techniques. And don’t worry … it’s all for the sake of growing God’s kingdom.
Know what? People will show up—for a time.
But the techniques that draw people are both fleeting and addictive. If a church grows by one thousand people its first two years, the leadership can come to expect that growth to continue, no matter that it’s unsustainable. (The same thing happens in business.) So the leadership is constantly tempted to improve, tweak, innovate, change, scale, revamp and so on.
I’ll be honest: It took me too many years to figure out the real problem.
The problem isn’t any particular techniques I’m using or missing, and it’s certainly not my people.
The problem is my motivation. Whether I’m conscious of it or not, far too often, I manage people in order to achieve a self-serving end. If I can get my employees to perform better, my organization’s bottom line will grow and I’ll gain recognition for being the leader who orchestrated it.
But if I remove that selfish motivation, would I really read another book by the latest management guru? Probably not. Certainly not as often. It would help me focus my attention on the few management lessons that speak specifically to my situation, rather than being distracted by bestseller lists and insider jargon.
The antithesis of caring about the management tricks is to care about people. The best managers put their people first, period.
That sounds easy, but it’s exceedingly difficult. There will always be other motivations competing for priority. Many of those competing motivations are vital, by the way, such as profitability, sustainability and so on. But the best bosses and managers are those who truly care about the people they lead. That’s incredibly hard yet incredibly important.
If you get it right—caring about and serving your team—you’ll be able to read management books less often and more effectively because you’re reading for the right reason.
If you get it wrong, well, maybe my next book will be just the twelve-step program you need.