Hidden Lessons in Leadership #15

Anne Berkowitch, the co-founder and CEO of SelectMinds, shares her view of keys to effective leadership in an interview with Adam Bryant of the New York Times.  Anne states “it’s really about being able to bring together a group of people, get the best out of them and get them wanting to work as a unit toward some goal post.” For Anne this is not about providing the right incentives or using ones’ position of authority to get others to do as you wish.  Listening to people is Anne’s lever.

While Anne says listening to people helps her to “understand what motivates them” toward getting them “to push themselves beyond their comfort zones”, listening does much more than this.  Listening communicates.  It communicates to others that you actually care about them.  In so doing you also communicate that you have trust in them, which in turn contributes to the development of trust throughout the organization.  Building a culture of trust is not something that can be legislated, it must be demonstrated, and it begins with the trustworthiness of those in authority.

Why is trust so essential?  Because without out it you won’t have a workplace wherein people feel safe and secure enough to fully exercise their capabilities; to step out of their comfort zone in order to realize their potential.  If, as the leader, you want your organization to remain viable, then it has to be a place where people’s ideas continue to emerge.  People are less likely to engage in the work of the organization if you don’t engage with them.

Anne’s approach to her leader-follower relationships is one of partnership. When speaking of how she recruits and hires people Anne said “I need partners in this business.”  Listening to your partners, engaging with partners leads to a productive relationship.

Engaging with them doesn’t mean getting out in front of them—showing you are the one in-charge—but rather getting behind them. Anne explains, “if you think about how you steer a boat, it’s always from the back, and I’ve moved toward the back of the boat.”  While Anne remains the one in-charge, she uses her positional authority to support the efforts of those in the organization.  Anne enables people to paddle their own boat—providing them the opportunity to have a sense of ownership—explaining, “I wanted people to be mini-C.E.O.’s of their area.”  This sense of ownership is the engagement that we often call motivation.

Though Anne seeks people who are smart, honest with him/her self, curious, and who want to be a part of a group to build something.  What Anne does watch out for and avoids are people “looking for a title”, those who are climbers.

So many feel that they have to continue to establish their position as the one in-charge—leading by fear—and in so doing they actually lose their ability to be a positive and productive influence.  Anne tells of her experience of trying to lead by imposing herself on others, “it just took a lot of false starts to learn that being smart isn’t the same thing as being a leader. We were going down the runway but the plane wasn’t taking off.”  There is a huge difference between people being moved and people being motivated; fear moves people but it doesn’t motivate greatness, it actually inhibits it.

Anne’s approach to leadership reminds me of an orchestra conductor.  Enabling those with talent and potential to make music, the kind of music they could never make alone.

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