Leaders come in all sizes and shapes. They speak every language on the planet. They have different religions, different food preferences, and different ideas about culture. But every leader, has a choice about how to lead.
Some leaders act like they’re superheroes. They imagine themselves as superior beings with gifts not given to the rest of us. Other leaders act like human beings doing important work. They see themselves like the rest of us but with the job of helping teams be more productive with higher morale. Let’s see what that looks like in practice.
The Leader as Superhero
If you’re a superhero leader, you imagine yourself as the person with the answers. People come to you when they don’t know what to do. You watch what people on your team are doing closely. You expect them to do what you tell them to do.
The Team Death Spiral
There’s one big problem with superhero leaders. The teams they lead, and the lives they live, get worse instead of better.
The problem is that the superhero leader is playing the game with only one brain. Superhero leaders think they have the only good ideas. They shoot down or ignore everyone else’s ideas. Guess what? Teammates quit bringing ideas. Superheroes micromanage everyone. Guess what? Teammates quit showing initiative and wait for instructions.
The result is exactly what you’d expect. Productivity drops. Morale tanks. The best people leave for more congenial surroundings.
The team members suffer from this. The organization suffers, too. But the person who suffers most is the superhero leader.
Superhero Leadership Is A Path to Burnout
As teammates stop showing initiative and sharing ideas, the superhero leader needs to do more and more. That leads to long hours at work.
As productivity drops and top performers bail, stress goes way up for a superhero leader. There’s lots and lots of frustration.
Longer hours and more stress take their toll at home, too. The superhero leader spends less and less time with his or her family. To make things worse, the superhero leader brings home frustrations from work and makes the few hours with family less than pleasant.
The Leader as Human Being
If you want to lead like a human being instead of a superhero, here are some things to think about.
You can’t do it all, so don’t try. Instead, lead like the fallible human being you are. Understand that you aren’t perfect, and you have limited capacity.
That’s the bad news. The good news is, as many people have said, “None of us is as smart as all of us.” If the brains of your teammates are in the game, you have a much greater possibility of success.
Work at using your behavior to influence the behavior and performance of others. It’s simple, really. Command requires you to know everything. Influence frees you to use all the brains around you.
If you’re a human being with the job of leading, your job is to create an environment (you can call it a culture) where people want to do good work. Then, your job is to help them do it. Here’s more good news. We know how to do that.
Give the People What They Want
When I say to give the people what they want, I’m not talking about giving them anything they want. I’m not talking about balloons and birthday cake. Instead, give the people what we know helps make a great place to work.
People want to have the maximum control possible over their work life. They want to make as many decisions as they can about how and where and when they work. Let them have as much control as you can.
People want to do important work. They want to know that what they do all day makes a difference somehow. Tell them why the work they do is important. Help them understand whose life is better because of what they do.
People want a safe and friendly place to work. Your job is to create a team culture that gives them that. You must be fair and consistent in the way you treat team members. You must be hyperalert to intra-team conflicts. When you become aware of one, do what you can to make it go away.
People want to make progress. They want to be in a better place today than they were yesterday. They want next year to be even better. Coach them. Help them succeed and grow and the progress will come.
The Path to A Better Life
When you lead like a human being and create a place where people can do good work and do important work with people they like, many things get better.
People pitch in and productivity increases. Good people stay. You help people on your team succeed. You hear the friendly laughter that’s characteristic of a great working environment.
The good things don’t stop there. You can go home at night and not take the stress with you. You have more time for your family and personal interests. You’ll probably sleep better.
You can try to be the superhero leader or the human leader.
Superhero leaders have only one brain in the game.
Superhero leaders send teams into a death spiral.
Human leaders use their behavior to influence the behavior and performance of others.
Human leaders give people what they want at work.
Human leaders create productive teams with high morale.
Human leaders have less stress and a better life.