You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them,
but by building a fire within.
- Bob Nelson
Think of someone in your life who has been your leader. It might be a supervisor, a CEO, a teacher, a parent, a mentor, or a political figure. Why did you follow that person? What was it about what they did, about who they were?
If you generate a list of the characteristics of that person, it might include qualities like they are honest and forthright, empowering and challenging, inspirational and passionate. To me a key quality that a good leader has is vision. Yes I mean vision as in the ’vision thing’ – being able to visualize a profitable direction and make that direction clear and reachable for the people around them. That vision thing is about the future of an enterprise. But just as importantly, I mean the much simpler ability to see the people who are in front of you – being able to see them clearly in the present.
And what is seeing clearly? It is undeniably an act of generosity. Have you ever been in a situation where you were seen fully as who you are, with all of your strengths and your challenges? That is a true gift for all of us and tends to bring out our hardest and best work, our highest level commitment. When we are well and truly challenged by someone else, they are seeing what we can do (that we are not already doing) and it motivates us toward that better performance. When we are stuck in a system or an action and someone sees that and empowers us to free ourselves (or decides on a change to break that logjam), that not only opens an opportunity for us to deliver our best work, it also acknowledges that the logjam we were in was real and alterable.
It is an absolute no-brainer that acknowledgment and appreciation motivate and encourage follower-ship. Nothing more needs to be written about this. But what predicates acknowledgment and appreciation? Seeing the good work, seeing the person who did the good work, seeing the results of the good work. If you have ever gotten insincere appreciation you know that the person acknowledging you really did not see you or what you did.
As my good friend Kristin Kaufman of Alignment, Inc reminds us, being polite is also part of good leadership:
The strongest and most successful leaders with whom I have worked were the ones that took the time to thank, to acknowledge hard work, to say please and yes … to say “I’m sorry” when a mistake had been made or an injustice had occurred.
And what is politeness? Seeing other people, acknowledging them as adults, and giving them the benefit of our consideration.
Are you getting the parallels here? If we are seen, challenged, our barriers are taken down, appreciated and treated politely, which all grow out of being seen clearly – we feel better about ourselves, we deliver better work, and guess what – we stick with our leader and follow them!
Good leadership is about seeing. And it is up to the leader to see. This means that to be a good leader and see people in their fullest authenticity and potential, you have to work on your ability to see clearly. Now this is not all rosy – leadership is challenging because you are also called on to see what is not working, who is not delivering results, and you must act on those things as well.
So how do you increase your ability to see? I have 2 simple suggestions:
- Practice by seeing yourself. Observe your own reactions, your own thoughts, your own feelings, and your own motivations (the list can go on…).
- Practice being more generous. Take the time to think about what would be a gift to the people around you and start giving it. Start with recognizing people’s good work and with politeness. Turn up the volume on these two and the others will follow.
Seeing clearly is much harder than it sounds and takes practice. It also goes rusty pretty quickly, especially when we are under stress. If you are going to be the leader that people want to follow, it is worth doing that practice – for the rest of your career.
We practice generosity with others and with ourselves, over and over again, and the power of it begins to grow until it becomes almost like a waterfall, a flow.
- Sharon Salzberg