Reflecting on the past 17 years in my development as a leader in a professional services firm I’ve come to realize how my style has distinctly evolved.
When I first started, I thought I could change anyone. With enough leading, influence, pushing and prodding I could convince anyone that my way was the best way and that they should follow me. While I thought this worked, over time I found out that when people supported my ideas and beliefs they were not committed to them and ultimately did not make the changes I was expecting. I learned that support in no way indicates someone’s true commitment. Rather, support meant that I like your idea and will support others taking the necessary steps and changes to make it happen, but do not ask me to make the same changes…I will not do it.
This was very frustrating to me. It was frustrating because, I believed that I had received someone’s commitment when I really only received their support. There is a big difference and in hind-site it was a big bummer.
As I continued to evolve, I thought I wised up by asking for commitment instead of support. Within my request for commitment, I would outline the specific actions that I expected of the other person and then get them to agree on those specific actions. I should clarify that I was not dealing with brand new employees fresh out of college, I was dealing with my partners and other experienced managers within our organization. Ah yes, I received their commitment and I thought I had the answer to our inability to get the things done, that we all agreed were important to our organization. Well you can probably guess that things still didn’t get done and the commitments that I thought I had received seemed to fade away into support.
The whole concept of support vs. commitment has changed my thinking from “I can change everyone” into “I can be a leader and provide my vision for the organization but I cannot change others”. The only person that can change someone is themself. Until the individual wants to make a change, change will not happen.
Guess what a key motivator for change is? Disappointment. Yes disappointment can help lead to change by unifying the team. Another key thing that I have learned over the years is that conflict is good. In my early years I tried to avoid conflict like the plague. This avoidance of conflict created very low trust and artificial harmony. Now I firmly believe that conflict is great and it actually builds trust and create a more cohesive team.
My role is to be a servant leader, setting the vision, direction and values of the organization. To show my passion for that vision and direction and live the values every day. To engage in productive conflict in order to build trust within the leadership group and create a more cohesive team. To provide real time feedback that at times creates disappointment which hopefully leads others to make the necessary changes that they have committed to.
I believe that the old school leadership of command and control or my way or the highway is dead. In my opinion, the true leader of the future is someone who works collaboratively to set the vision, values and clear objectives of the organization. Then the leader continually engages in productive conflict in order to build trust and create a cohesive team of individuals who choose on their own to commit to those objectives and make the necessary changes to execute on them. Lastly the leader needs to hold themself and others accountable for the actions that they themselves have committed to.