As a leader, you have an effect on people. When you leave the room, people either feel taller or smaller. This is an almost super-hero power, but, unfortunately, leaders are often unconscious of it.
A few years ago, I met with an author I had always admired. It wasn’t our first meeting; I had met with him a few times previously. I had always enjoyed being with him and left our encounters with a renewed commitment to serve him well.
But this time was different. He marched into the meeting with an entourage of assistants and a heavy dose of entitlement. Something had changed.
My people had worked hard to deliver stellar results, particularly in a tough economy. They had spent the weekend preparing, eager to share what they had accomplished. They had slides, handouts, and (they thought) good news to report.
However, he managed to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” He scowled during the presentation. He was cold and aloof. When we were finished, he asked why we hadn’t accomplished more. He offered a litany of complaints.
His staff—several of them new and eager to look smart—followed his lead. They focused on the hole rather than the donut. In our two hours together, not one of them expressed an ounce of gratitude. It was demoralizing and we left feeling diminished.
On the way to the airport, I did my best to encourage my team. They were clearly deflated. One of my senior people sighed, “He made me feel like an idiot.” Another added, “Honestly, that meeting made me want to quit.” In my own heart, I felt precisely the same way.
My guess is that this author had no idea what he had just done. He may even have thought he was somehow motivating us. Not so much. In fact, he had just shot himself in the foot—maybe even in the head.
He had evidently forgotten that, at the end of the day, everyone is a volunteer. People will only go so far in the performance of a duty. If you want their very best, you have to have their hearts. You can’t demand this or even buy it with a paycheck. You have to earn it.
In my experience, there are five ways to do this:
- Assume others are smart and working hard.
- Listen intently and ask thoughtful questions.
- Acknowledge the sacrifices others have made on your behalf.
- Express gratitude for their effort and their results.
- Remind them why their work is so important and the difference they are making.
Yes, you can talk about issues that need to be addressed, but it has to be done in a way that leaves people motivated about what is possible.
As a leader, you have more power than you think. You will get more of what you focus on. Next time you walk into a meeting, consider, How do I want people to feel when the meeting is over? Begin with the end in mind.
Question: Think back to a great meeting where you left feeling empowered. What happened to make you feel that way? What happened to your performance? Share your answer on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.