Every leader faces challenges that can derail his or her efforts. As part of the Senior Leader Candidate Development Program at the Graduate School USA, I teach a course entitled, “Leading People”. In that course we explore those challenges and discuss solutions that can be immediately put into practice. This article series will explore these challenges and solutions.
Challenge 1 – People do not naturally want to follow you, even if they know you’re the one in charge.
People are often averse to following anyone, even those in charge. Sometimes they feel that by following others, they will lose some self-esteem or power. Knowing why they don’t want to follow won’t get them falling in line behind you.
I experienced this challenge as a young Second Lieutenant Platoon Leader. First of all, I was 22 years old and had just gotten out of the Academy. My youngest soldier was 20 and my oldest was 45. Some had seen combat but I was the one in charge.
Late one afternoon, my Platoon Sergeant pulled me aside and said, “They will follow you because they see your confidence and believe you know what you’re doing. You’ve been trained to lead. Get to it.” He was right. I was hesitating and second guessing myself; both of which were undercutting my credibility with my followers.
Solution 1 – Ignore those inner voices, put on your John Wayne face and lead
Recognize that there may always be that quiet voice that will say, “You have no idea what you’re doing.” If you listen to the voice, it can lower your self-confidence and make leading that much harder.
Look for ways to add to your credibility by leaning on and displaying your strengths. If you have definite expertise in some aspect of the job, put that expertise on display for your followers to see. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about those areas where you still need to build proficiency. Your willingness to listen to advice, even from your followers, demonstrates the confidence of a leader.
Challenge 2 – People will only follow you if you have a destination
If all you’re doing is punching your ‘To-Do List,’ people can’t pick up on the path you’re tracking so they can fall in line behind you.
The most effective leaders are transformational. They constantly question the organization’s direction and methods, and they have a glorious picture in their mind that defines how the world will be better off once they reach their imagined destination.
Solution 2 – Select a destination; generate your vision; pass the dream onto your followers
The real challenge is picking a destination that gets people hungry. Hungry enough to cast their doubts to the wind on the off chance that they might just make it. I can personally attest to the power of a great vision. As a high school cadet, I thought after graduation I’d go to a local college and then hope to find a good job. My professor of Military Science, COL James Norwood, called me one afternoon and started talking to me about West Point.
But he didn’t just talk. He gave me an old West Point yearbook and I spent hours going through it. Every time I brought it back to him, he’d point out something else and tell me to take it home and keep looking. After a while, I forgot about taking it back. I’m almost ashamed to admit it but I still have that old yearbook – plus four of my own! I got hungry. COL Norwood selected a destination, generated a vision and passed it onto one of his followers.
Challenge 3 – People do not care about where you want to go
This one is fairly simple to explain. People generally care about what they care about, not necessarily what the leader cares about. They begin to care about what the leader cares about if they truly believe the leader cares about them.
For the leader, the great challenge is finding a balance between attention to the mission and attention to the people addressing the mission. And trust me; there is never enough time to adequately address both. There have been times when I was completely focused on an urgent mission requirement and then been blindsided by an important people issue.
Solution 3 – How to show your team that you care
In the Army, it was termed as ‘Mission First – People Always.’ I’ve often failed to strike the right balance. In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey wrote about the tyranny of the urgent. I’ve found in my career that ‘the mission’ has a certain tyranny about it also. The mission is always there and it always needs the leader’s attention. If the leader forgets about the people who are there to address the mission, it presents as “this leader doesn’t care about me so why should I care about his/her mission?”
The solution is to always spend time with the people. Make sure they know they are as important as what you’re trying to accomplish. You don’t have to spend as much time caring about your people as you spend addressing the mission. But if you never show that you care, trust that they’ll figure it out.
I hope you enjoyed this and have some strategies that you can use to improve your effectiveness as a leader. Now get out there and lead people to greatness! Need a speaker to rally your team or a one-on-one coach? Hire Art.