I became a better leader, not because of my leadership degree, not because of my work experiences, not because I spent time reading trade magazines and not because I went to a conference. If you stay aware, if you stay woke, if you stay open, the simple act of living life will illuminate lessons you can use to become a better leader. And if you have kids - more than one - you are working towards a PhD. My kids taught me something about leadership recently:
I learned a lesson in my basement.
I'm really blessed to have a wife and 3 boys. I am also extremely blessed to have a house to live in. That house has a basement I don't spend a lot of time in. The boys do....well....I'm not sure what they do down there.....but the point is, they spend time in the basement way more than my wife or I do. It's a pleasant space, they play down there, entertain their friends down there and generally have a great time. The best thing about it is they can damage one another and I don't have to lie when I say "I can't hear you!"; I'm actually being truthful!
All we ask is for them to straighten the basement. That's what we say: "Boys, please straight up the basement." Most evenings the 9 year old, 12 year old and 14 year old come upstairs, look at the both of us and confirm the basement is straightened. I didn't check to see if their assessment was accurate; I took their word for it and would not follow up.
One day I went into the basement and was shocked: it was a wreck. It was not straightened as they promised just 12 hours prior. Pillows were on the floor, not on the couch. The cable remote was not able to be found. Blankets were in a corner and stuff was on the floor. These kids maliciously lied to me - their father - and they were gonna get it when they came home from school.
A little while later they came home and I was waiting for them. I brought all of them including my wife into the basement and I asked the $50,000 question: "Does this basement look clean to you!!!???!!!"
And that's when it hit me: they were scrambling to understand why I was upset. To them the basement WAS straightened. Thank God I was able to read the room and not blow a gasket. I then told them all of us were going to straighten the basement so that we'd all have a visual of what I had asked. In 15 minutes we all contributed to straightening the basement. I even took some cell phone pics of it so that the boys had a point of reference what straightened looks like. Since then the basement has been in much better shape.
So often we as leaders we give instructions for others to follow, they don't follow it and we get angry at them. We never consider we don't properly set a vision clear enough for people to run towards. Here's what the basement taught me:
Write the vision
Have a concept of where you want to go and make sure the vision is SO CLEAR everyone can see it!
Walk Them Through It
Show people and/or model for people exactly what you want. People won't be able to hear you over your actions. Roll up your sleeves if necessary and work alongside them so that you both are working on a collective goal. They'll appreciate your willingness to care about them and you'll get a keen sense of their fitness for the work.
Assume the Best
I wrongly assumed my kids were defiant or difficult or disrespectful and boy would I have been wrong! They really wanted to do what I asked them to do; they truly didn't know how to do it the way I wanted it to be. Assume the best about the people you lead; they'll feel respected and WANT to work for you.
Define What Success Looks Like
Take pictures, celebrate, have a party, discuss it - do anything you can to articulate what success looks like. Make sure everyone on your team can define success. It's not subjective. It has to be something we all agree we can all value and work towards.
Supervise The Change
I told them to clean the basement yet I never followed up with them to see if it was clean. Don't give your people instructions without respecting them enough to make sure it's done correctly. I'm not talking about micro-managing. I'm talking about respect. If you simply bark orders but don't follow up with your team, your team will quickly learn you enjoy being boss but don't really care if your instructions are executed.
Make sure the vision is clear, articulate it over and over again, make sure if someone new joins the team they can explain the objective and celebrate wins when you reach the mark. Have quick and appropriate responses when you don't. Use inclusive language like 'we' fell a bit short last quarter and 'we' had a successful year.
I learned how to be better by spending more time in my basement. Let me know if you want to come over for a game of ping pong or a PhD in Leadership Studies.