I read an article recently in one of Florida’s main business magazines about a very large company that went through a multimillion dollar embezzlement scheme by a couple of mid-managers and a senior-level manager. The embezzlement scheme would have worked had it not been for the company voluntarily complying with the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which the federal government passed in response to some high profile corporate accounting scandals, such as Enron, Tyco and WorldCom. Although only public companies need to comply with the act, this private company saw it necessary to put into operation, among other things, a corporate audit committee and an internal audit personnel. But let’s go back to the embezzlement scheme for a moment. The scheme was so amateurish and low tech (using corrective fluid to change what would have been thousands of dollars into hundreds) that I thought to myself, what were they thinking? Between these individuals, they bought sports cars, Rolex watches, new homes and even gave some of the company’s money away. In short, these individuals lacked honesty, integrity (we will address this topic in the future) and failed to carry out their fiduciary responsibilities. But what really struck me was the way in which the senior level management addressed the problem once the scheme was busted. They brought in internal and external auditors, lawyers, government officials and other representatives to ensure that the investigative process was transparent. This is what leadership is all about! Never denying that things will go wrong or have gone wrong, but also taking the responsibility and appropriate actions to make sure that the same thing does not happen again.
I mention the above example for the reason that this company is now stronger, closer and better prepared than ever before, because of the strong leadership that was displayed during this crisis. When you lead you take responsibility, when you manage, you say it was someone else’s fault. Some people might even argue that leaders are born, while others may counter with the fact that the environment has more to do with their development than their genes. I have not seen any evidence to support the idea that people are born with leadership skills or traits. What I have read and seen is that people can learn these skills just as if they were learning to ride a bicycle. It takes repetition to get it right. I remember one of my favorite writers, Steven Covey, who said in his book entitled Principle-Centered Leadership (this is a must read for everyone who is leading people) that “Ethics is ultimately grounded in a commitment to doing right things”. The fact is that when you are a true leader, you demonstrate a high level of ethics, which goes along with how your peers and subordinates respond to you and trust what you ask of them. How do you expect people to respond and follow you if you are not demonstrating consistency in your behavior? Do you manage people or do you lead them? Do you know what you stand for or are you influenced by what is popular at the moment? Do you have what it takes to lead?
Here are a few things to keep in mind when leading a team or organization.
1. Have your people believe in you
As a leader you must be able to have your people believe in you. This starts with having consistency in everything you say and do. Your life must be a reflection of who you are inside and out. When you are away from the work environment, you should exhibit the same behavior as when you are at work. If not, people will start to see through the pretense and not trust you. Having people believe in you is the beginning of great things happening to you, your people and the organization.
2. Provide them with proper training
As a leader you must properly and honestly assess the skill level of your subordinates, and provide them with the proper training. Once you recognize their weaknesses, you will be able to help them reach and surpass their potential. You should also provide them with a platform to demonstrate their skills to others in the organization.
3. Inspire them with your passion
Leaders who consistently outperform their peers are those who have a passion for what they do. They are committed to their success, as well as the success of their subordinates. They exhibit confidence in what they do and they take the intelligent risks to get the job done. They inspire others to do their best and for them to show the same attention to their people.
4. Get to know your people well
Once a leader knows his/her people well he will be able to lead them better. He will know what motivate them (see #6) and what will keep him/her from not reaching their goals. You will be able to better understand them when certain situation arises.
5. Give them praise
Everybody wants to receive some form of recognition, no matter how small it may be. We all want to feel appreciated from time to time and getting this kind of feedback from your supervisor will motivate your subordinate to want to do well. Getting a pat on the back will always help to keep motivation high.
6. Know what motivate them individually
As I mentioned above in #4, it is important to get to know your people well. Once that is done, you will find the right button to push to motivate them. Some people are motivated by money, while others don’t mind receiving recognition in front of their peers. Knowing what motivates them individually, you will be able to have them reach and surpass their objectives and goals.
7. Ask the right questions
When you as a leader ask the right questions of your subordinate, you will get them to start thinking and analyzing things differently. They will now be motivated to review areas of their project/plan that they may not have thought about before. Your questions should not be intimidating, but rather they should be probing. A skilled leader will always ask the probing questions to get a realistic assessment of any situation. By asking questions, you are engaging in open communication.
Leadership starts with an individual and when you have the wrong person in a leadership role, the whole organization could be affected negatively. It affects productivity, morale and can even change the culture of the organization over time.
About the Author:
Keith Gooden is a business consultant, who works with small to medium size businesses and focuses in the areas of sales, marketing, strategic planning, customer service, personnel management and business operations. He can be reached at (407)446-2419 or [email protected]