Leading Doesn’t Mean Doing All of the Work



 I’m in the midst of a season of coaching.

I’ve spent the last few months training up a couple of hundred employees in a client organization to facilitate a cultural change program that they are now delivering to their employees.

As part of the training cascade, I’ve sat in on a number of their training sessions to offer coaching, support, and guidance.

Yesterday, I observed Greg, a Vice-President, as he delivered his first session.   Greg was nothing if not enthusiastic.   Maybe too much.  Imagine a very excited morning radio DJ voice:

Good Morning everyone!!!  I’m SO incredibly excited to be here with you.  Today is going to be fantastic!  It’s awesome!  Totally awesome.  I went through this program just like you will…it totally blew me away.

Now, just to be clear, I would take over-excited over dull and boring seven days out of the week.  But here’s the thing:  as I watched the reaction of the participants to Greg’s over-the-top affect, they pulled back.   It was as if his enthusiasm was too much to be true.  It smelled fake to them.

The other thing Greg did was make lots of assumptions.  He’d say things like:

I know you’re going to have a great time.   We’ve got some activities planned that will be fun, fun, fun!  I know you’re going to love them!

If I’m sitting in the crowd, I might be thinking “Don’t tell me what I’m going to do.  I’ll decide for myself if I love them.”  Not every one is motivated by your rah-rah.   It actually turns them off.  (It turns me off.)  When you put forth your own personal experience that is so strong,  you don’t give space for other people to have any different experience.

You also run the risk of people rejecting your ideas or experience just because you told them to have it, rather than inviting them to make the choice for themselves.

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, we knew we were having a boy.    Like many first-time parents, we spent time considering what we might name him, but wanted to meet this being before we officially named him.  (The irony of that is that all newborns,  if they were to be named for what they look liked when they just came out of the womb ought to be named Yoda or Winston Churchill.)

While Mary was still pregnant, I told my family that we were having a boy.  A few weeks later, I got a phone call from my mother. She said,

I know what you should name the baby.  You should name him Maurice.

Now, Maurice is a fine and dandy name, and may be good for some boys.  But I was relieved because it was a name that was so far off of our list that it never was an option.  My bigger fear would have been that she say “I think you should name him Alexander”.    You see, had my mother mentioned that, I never would have felt comfortable naming him Alexander (which we did),  because that’s the name my Mom suggested.  I needed to own the choice fully.

Adults have a great need to be self-directed.   When we try to control their experience as leaders, we get one of two responses:

  1. Compliance– where they go along, but only because we tell them to.  They aren’t committed.
  2. Defiance-–  they rebel.  You think you can tell me what to do?  I don’t think so.

Greg had great intentions.  In talking to him before and after the session, he genuinely wanted to people to have a terrific experience. What he didn’t have was mastery of the skills to create an environment where people could find their own inspiration.  He was trying to force-feed inspiration down their throats.  And they weren’t swallowing.

In the process, Greg was working extremely hard.  Harder than he needed to.  The group was rather passive.  Rather than engage, they were sitting back and watching the Greg show.

Where are you working to get some-one else to buy-in to your ideas, plans, or actions?    Is your “sales” approach one that’s more focused on compliance, or commitment?

Do you lead via inspiration?  Or manipulation?   Both will achieve results- but different kinds of results.

Remember: it’s not about you; it’s about them.


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