Leaders Light Fires Within, Not Under

September 11, 2023 Jeff Owen l Arête Purpose Consulting

Leaders Light Fires Within, Not Under

Remember when Sergeant Carter got nose-to-nose with Private Pyle and screamed: “MOVE IT! MOVE IT! MOVE IT!”?

We related to that scene on “Gomer Pyle USMC” because that’s how a Marine drill sergeant traditionally motivates his platoon. We laughed at it because the late Jim Neighbor’s aw-shucks smile - though being berated - was hilarious.

That top-down management style worked well for generations in our military. But, it’s no longer effective in today’s business and organizational environment.

Think about it. Who honestly feels inspired and committed after receiving a flaming email from your boss or a butt-chewing in a staff meeting?

The truth is that a Sergeant Carter-like meltdown has limited effect on employee performance these days. In his book about Steve Jobs, author Walter Isaacson pointed out that the tech pioneer was a genius product developer, but a horrible boss. True inspiration to achieve success at Apple came from great leaders within the organization, not Jobs - who verbally abused his employees.

A Facebook friend recently summed it up perfectly with a post:

Managers Light a Fire UNDER People. Leaders Light a Fire IN People.

Managers too often believe they have all the answers to a successful outcome. They use command and control tactics – including memos and staff meetings – to instruct the troops with a long list of assignments. The results usually create an apprehensive culture that marks time, at best.

Leaders find talented people, inspire them and turn them loose. They realize that people work differently these days – in a good way (even though we hear a lot about the lack of work ethic among the kids). Empowered employees get results.

Here are three ways Leaders motivate differently than Managers:

They explain 'why'

When employees understand the backstory of goals, they achieve them. It’s that simple. My son, who works for an automotive parts manufacturer, reports to different supervisors. He said his team is much more productive when given quarterly sales projections and inventory status. “When we know what’s going on, we make it happen,” he says. When another supervisor, though, screams at them to make more parts, morale deflates and output drops.

How they do it: Leaders take every opportunity to share information about the customers’ needs. Leaders explain why a job or new client is important to the company. They give history and provide perspective. They explain to employees the financial impact of their work – and how it affects them.

They engage the 'how' process

Leaders admit they don’t know everything. No one does. They don’t throw their MBA in their employee’s faces. If you are an ineffective leader, no one cares about your snobbish education. Leaders need employees as much as they need leaders.

How they do it: Leaders have “discovery sessions” with everyone who touches a project or talks to the client. They go through a process that encourages ideas and solutions. Even if employees disagree with decisions about the project going forward, they had their say. Most employees only want to be heard.

They communicate the 'what'

Leaders are effective communicators. One statement you will never hear in an organization featuring a true Leader is: “No one knows what’s going on…” Top-down managers erroneously assume that keeping employees in the dark prevents dissension. Insecure supervisors wrongly believe that monopolizing facts gives them power over results. Nothing could be further from the truth.

How they do it: Leaders have constant conversations with employees in small group meetings (even for 10 minutes a day). They conduct “management by walking” throughout their day. They have daily reviews where they ask: How did we do yesterday? What can we do better today? Leaders show progress with scoreboards. They know people love scoreboards. That’s why we watch SportsCenter.

Leaders understand and leverage the power of the relationship. They nurture the connection with employees. And when they make the employees their priority, businesses and organizations thrive.

Jeff Owen is a Partner with Arête Purpose Consulting and is a Partner with Clever Dogs Media. He once saw a sign in a manager's office that read: "The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves."

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