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Searching for the Silver Bullet

By David Garic

Here’s how it goes:  A business leader attends a one day seminar entitled, “How to Lead People Without Really Trying.”  The leader returns from the seminar armed with what he believes are the greatest ideas he’s ever heard for leading people. He’s charged-up and excited to try some of the techniques he learned at the seminar. It isn’t too long before the leader grows frustrated because the results of his efforts fall significantly short of his expectations. The people he has been leading haven’t really changed and when he thinks about it, he hasn’t either. Frustrated leaders seem to be continuously on the lookout for the “one thing” that will make their people problems disappear.

Perhaps this phenomenon is a reflection of the times. With technology, we can fix just about anything that is broken and if we cannot fix it, we just throw it away. We take it one step further by changing out parts, buying new software, and plugging new things in, when all we really have to do is find the source of the problem. Everything is newer, better and faster these days, and it happens at an increasingly rapid pace. It only makes sense that a leader would believe that someone has perfected the “Silver Leadership Bullet,” and that this bullet will make all of our problems go away and everyone will live happily ever after. Leaders often express it this way:  “If my people would just do their jobs, I’d be happy.”

People flock to hear the Gurus of Leadership. We all know who they are. They are the prolific writers and thinkers and, in some cases, business and government leaders of our time. While their contributions are significant they all seem to be saying the same or at least similar things. Not one of them claims that the “Silver Leadership Bullet” exists or will ever be created.

Like the physical laws that govern the planet, there are the inviolable principles of leading people. Just as it is impossible to ignore gravity, it is nearly impossible for leaders to lead unless they harmonize with these principles. They are not so much how-to rules as they are essential considerations for leaders as they trod upon the leadership pathway. And while an exhaustive listing certainly exists it really isn’t necessary.  For leaders who might be searching for the “Silver Leadership Bullet,” their energies may be better spent by focusing on the following principles:

Accept the truth about who you are. If you have an overseeing responsibility for one or more people, you are a leader. Leading isn’t an additional duty for you, it is the primary responsibility that rests on your shoulders. The overwhelming majority of your time should be spent on attending to the needs and requirements of your followers. Things can be managed; people should be led. Leaders get things done “through” people.

Leaders can’t motivate people but they must be motivational. This isn’t a play on words. If your boss offered to pay you an additional $100 to perform a single task, would you do it? With few exceptions (most fall in the moral/ethical category), most of us would perform it. If the same boss threatened to fire you if you didn’t perform a task, would you perform that task? Most of us (with the same previously noted moral/ethical exceptions) would say yes. In both examples, ask yourself this question:  Who’s really motivated to do the work, YOU or your boss?   If your answer is your boss, you’re on the path to understanding that leaders sometimes confuse their own motivation with that of the people they are leading.  

Leaders recognize that people are not “resources.” Employees aren’t commodities. Leaders understand that people, not things, are the drivers of success. Computers are not responsible for creating or inventing anything, people are. As Ken Blanchard says, “People “are” the organization.”

Leaders know that people are complicated and unpredictable. Leaders pay attention to the needs, desires and expectations of their people and are continuously aligning individual needs with organizational goals. Instead of trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole, leaders should search for the right “fit”. They should recognize that all people are accompanied by weaknesses and strengths, and then focus on utilizing those strengths and minimizing the weakness. They know when they find this “fit” there is magic.

Leaders recognize the clear correlation between their own actions and the actions of the people around them. They understand that if someone fails or succeeds it is likely that the leader’s actions had something to do with it. Leaders revel in the success of others, and because of this their own rewards are a result of the abilities of the people they lead. When speaking of what he required of his leaders, a CEO said, “I want them to lead by example.”  The universal truth is, “leaders are always leading by example,” but it may be the wrong example.

Perhaps the “Silver Leadership Bullet” is being designed at this moment in a laboratory somewhere. It is almost certain that there will be those who continue to believe in the possibility that one exists. In the meantime, for leaders who are already successfully leading by following the inviolable laws of leadership, whether the silver bullet will ever be invented, who really needs one?

Read other articles and learn more about David Garic.

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