Select Page

The one characteristic that sets leaders apart

We’ve all read the business books that explain “formal” and “informal” leaders within organizations and that leaders exist within all levels of an organization. One characteristic I think that distinguishes a leader from the pack is that they view  their area of influence through an “ownership lens”.

A leader  takes “ownership” of an issue (idea, solution set, etc.) and will see it through to completion – whether good or bad. If you’ve been in business for any number of years you’ll know that it is a rare solution set that is all good or all bad. Very few solutions fit into a neat and tidy box because there are always trade offs. Sometimes a “good” solution set has some “bad” mixed in and vice-versa. There is no perfect. However, whatever the final solution, the leader who exhibits ownership never flinches from their responsibility to own the outcome.

Before you go all “Rambo” and start thinking you’re alone in the corporate wilderness – let me be clear – ownership doesn’t mean going it alone. In fact, it means quite the opposite. So relax, you don’t have to be Rambo after all. (Which is a relief because I don’t do well sleeping in tents. My husband got me to go camping, once. But that’s for another story.)

Leadership requires that you:

  • Work within your team and your sphere of influence for the good of the organization, not necessarily for yourself
  • Build consensus across the organization
  • Own the facts so you can explain the details without editorializing or sensationalism
  • See the issue to its conclusion
  • Become the advocate for solving the issue (decision, solution set, et al.)

A long time ago I had a boss who didn’t always take credit for our team’s solutions. I once asked her why. She said, “Don’t kid yourself, I own the outcome but it’s not necessary for me to always be in the spotlight. It’s far more important that the team is. It’s about doing the right things right because they are right.” Altruistic? Perhaps. But working for her changed my view of leaders forever.

Being a leader and embracing ownership means you won’t always get to credit for the answer. It means you are willing to not be the center of attention. It means you are willing to work behind the scenes content in the knowledge that the “right things are done rightly”. It means you own the solution even if your name doesn’t appear on it. But like my old boss knew, your fingerprints will be all over that solution.

Lots of people are good at talking about problems. How good are you at quietly stepping up and fixing them? Own what’s yours and then some. Do the right things right because they are right.

Be intentional

You’ve been “served”

SERVE: Show Respect (first of a five part series)

I believe that a key component of a successful leader is serving. Regardless who you are serving (an external or an internal customer) the definition and the actions are the same. Don Flow, CEO of Flow Companies, summed up five ingredients that do a nice job of saying what “serving” means.

Show respect
Earn trust
Reach for perfection
Value input
Energize others

Over the upcoming weeks, I want to share my thoughts on “how” you can put these into practical application in your day-to-day job.

This week we’ll start with: Show Respect

Part of serving others is recognizing that each person has worth. Webster talks about respect as a feeling that something has value, has importance, is good. We all want to feel respected – feel that we have worth, have value, are good. But we are talking about serving others, not feeling good ourselves. It isn’t about how YOU feel, it is about how you make OTHERS feel. People are unique and each has their triggers for feeling respected. What makes you feel respected does not make everyone else feel respected. You may very well believe that your customer has value, are important, are good. That is not the point. It is all about “showing” it in a way that they feel it.

So how do we show respect to others? If everyone is different, can you ever succeed in meeting everyone’s requirement to feel respected? Of course not, but there are a few simple things that will help you make most people feel respected.

1. Know your customer.
Do you know the person well enough to understand what makes them feel valued? Is it words? Is it actions? Is it listening? When in doubt, try all three. Just doing one and hoping for the best is like handing someone a book in the dark. You gave them the book, but they can not see to read the book. You think you showed respect, but they can’t feel it.

2. Follow-up.
Regardless of the person, not following-up, not keeping your promises, are indicators that you don’t care about them. That is universal and is a sure bet — something that you can do for everyone. Even if you do not have the answer your customer is waiting for yet, a quick email to let them know they are not forgotten goes a long way.

3. Words matter.
You may have heard that you act like you dress. Put someone in a suit and they walk and sit different than when wearing jeans and sneakers. I contend the same goes for our words. If you talk about people in the positive, you will act positively toward them. How you talk about people when they aren’t around is a mirror that reflects your level of respect when they are around.

4. Be fair.
If you weigh the options, are fair in your judgement, and communicate the rationale to those involved – you are showing respect. They might not agree with your decision, but will know that you valued them by including them in the assessment/decision.

5. Agree to disagree.
Showing respect does not mean you always give in or always win. It means you discuss and respect differences in opinion. In business, there can be multiple “right” opinions. What greater level of respect is there than acknowledging a difference in opinion?

6. Manners.
Seems simple enough. Manners exist in all cultures to “level the behaviors” such that everyone feels valued. We know what to expect, and what to do. Things like “please and thank you” are simple words that show respect. When in doubt, dust off your manners and use civility to communicate respect.

Let me know how you are “showing respect” for your internal and external customers. I’d love to hear how you are putting the words into action.

kind regards,