I’ve decided to write a more personal post, on a lesson I’ve learned from my own family and life experience. After all, you’d be hard pressed to convince me that everything worth learning can be taught in a classroom, or read about in a book or article. And, as I reflect on almost 50 years in business, I am more convinced than ever that, even without a formal education, you can be a great business leader – if you are smart enough to learn from what is around you, fully understand people and how they work, and, most importantly, try to understand your own strengths, weaknesses, and impact on others.
This is a photograph my 86 year old father e-mailed me last week. He even beat me to the punch on getting it posted on Instagram because, at 86 years old, he is a life lesson in himself, epitomizing the notion that it is never ever too late to learn new things, and grow as a human being. If isolation and loneliness are concerns for our older generation, my dad combats it daily by interacting on social media, travelling the world, and working out at his local gym. He even walked into a tattoo parlour by himself last year to knock “getting a tattoo” off his bucket list.
But, this blog post is not so much about my dad, as it is about my facial expression. Look at me. I am 4 years old and, according to my dad, have just successfully caught a football for the very first time. What would it be like to capture that feeling of sheer joy and accomplishment, and feel it every single day. While I can’t recall the actual moment myself, from my own experiences as a parent I can almost guarantee it was followed up with the words “again dad, again”, and then, over time, “why don’t you stand a little further back, dad” or “let’s see if I can catch 10 in a row now.”
That is the addictive quality of achievement and success. Feeling successful feels great, and so we want to feel that again and again and again.
Which then begs the question, why do so many managers and leaders focus on where employees are falling short, instead of regularly pointing out their accomplishments, and building on their strengths? I believe it is a fact of basic human nature that when you feel successful, you want to feel it again, and feel it more, and feel it in different ways. When you feel like a failure, though, the tendency is to resign, stop trying, hide away and hope no one notices you’re not succeeding.
So, Lesson 1 of Leadership Lessons from my Family is about Success and Motivation. If you want to be a great manager, leader, parent, or even just a great human being, find ways to make the people around you feel successful, as often and in as many different ways as you can.
But wait, perhaps you are thinking, isn’t this what we’ve been doing with our parenting over the past 30 years? And isn’t it going horribly wrong as we tell our kids how wonderful they are over and over, to the point that they think they don’t have to try or work hard, because everything they do is so great and so perfect just as it is? And aren’t these kids going off to university unprepared? And entering jobs thinking they are so special, only to realize that in the real world they are not, in fact, entitled to a six figure salary out of university, or gushing praise from their boss over every report they produce?
To clarify, my point is not to blindly tell employees they are doing amazing things when they are not, or to walk around the office giving high fives and saying “great job” to everyone on a daily basis. If you want to be a truly great leader, then your task is actually far more complex than that. Your job as a leader is to find ways to make your employees be successful, feel successful, and own and be motivated by that success as their own. If you can create an environment in which your people are set up to have and feel success, then you will create a culture in which every team member is striving to catch that next football, to catch it from further away, and to catch it more times without dropping it, than they ever have before.