For the first time in my career, I was advanced to a position of leadership where my technical skills were no longer enough to ensure my success. I felt like a fish floundering on the dock grasping for any breath of air I could muster. I tried to coach others on their efforts based on my past technical experiences, but many specialized in areas I knew very little about. Then I tried to fall back onto the basic people skills of earning others respect and this allowed me to survive for a while. Although, I still wasn’t feeling any degree of success until I was told these five words: People want to be led.
It was at this point that it all made sense. People weren’t looking for me to have all the answers on how to do their jobs and they certainly weren’t concerned with me becoming their friend; they wanted me to take care of them. It was my job to ensure they had the resources they needed and to ensure each person on the team was pulling his or her own weight. They wanted me to lead the team.
It is instinctual. Think about every professional military class you have sat in. The first day the instructor says one of the students will be the class leader and most of the room hopes they are not chosen. It is not because people are afraid of leadership roles, it is more natural to be led than to be the leader. People want to be led. Why? We want others to have the burdens accompanying leadership. We want them to make the tough decisions and hold the accountability.
Sure, anyone can repeat orders and sway to the wind of popular demand. It is very easy to cut everyone back at lunch on Friday, but much harder to hold them over for a 12-hour shift to accomplish the mission. It is easy to give out a firewall 5 evaluation, but tough to offer the candid feedback needed to spark growth and boost poor performance. People don’t want a leader who is going to blow sunshine their way all the time; rather, a person who is willing to make the tough decisions and stand by them. We all want to be liked and know that as leaders we will have to make unpopular decisions that might get us “un-friended.”
The irony is when I tried to be everyone’s friend, I actually made less friends because I was constantly swaying in the wind and pinging back and forth trying to keep everyone happy. Nobody knew where they stood or where we were going. This frustrated my team. When I truly adopted the people want to be led mantra and stood by my decisions while explaining the big picture to those who disagreed, the team truly accepted me and had some pride in their leader for the first time.
It is up to us to be the leaders others will follow. More importantly, we need to be the leaders we would follow. This is done by sticking up for our team when they are right and taking the blame when they are wrong. We need to fight to get them the tools needed to complete the mission and take the time to appreciate what they accomplished using their talents. We simply need to move the big rocks blocking their paths, give them the proper tools, and watch them succeed.