What is it about the word leadership that gets people riled up or overly upset? The world is shaped – supposedly – by characters whose very names inspire reverence. The Jobses, Musks, Merkels, and Suu Kyis of the world. A lot of stock is placed on being a leader. The movers and shakers—such a contrived concept if you ask me.
So critical is its appeal that a quick Google search will turn out thousands of content dealing with this ineffable subject. I would attempt the very same thing here. However, I will approach it from a divergent, almost sacrilegious outlook. Here goes nothing.
Motivation is overrated
While there is nothing wrong with being motivated or inspired and all, it’s not a condition that we humans can sustain indefinitely. Like any kind of resource, it will run dry inevitably. Sooner rather than later even the most optimistic entrepreneur would lose hope after his life savings have all but disappeared.
I hear it all too often that great leaders make it a point to motivate their people. Again, a noble objective if there ever was one; but it’s fleeting and unrealistic. Even the most “leader-ly” manager cannot claim to have motivated his crew, whose lone reason for going to work, I assure you, is the paycheck.
If you’re a leader, it doesn’t hurt to make the lives of your followers more worthwhile. Follow the top 10 rules to motivating people, be more forthcoming to your subordinates, create a positive environment, introduce performance incentives—all of this is great. However, do not delude yourself into thinking such things inspire productivity and excellence, at least not for the long run.
What are you willing to suffer for?
We avoid hard work or sacrifice as much as possible because we associate such intolerable experiences as “negative”. This is simply untrue, and not recognizing so is the true reason people fail in their goals. First off, every single groundbreaking achievement in history was a result of hours and hours of painstaking hard work. Remember this.
It does not bode well for your goals – personal or not – if you focus on the moment you finally get them. Imagine how many people commit to losing weight only to fail time and again. I’ve experienced this myself. I get worked up dieting and exercising in the beginning (when motivation was still at peak), but in the end, I falter. It started with eating that hamburger just this once, extending that cheat day just this week, and making an excuse not to go to the gym just this rainy season.
There’s glory in the process. Braving through the hard parts is a reality we need to embrace in order to achieve the things we want out of life. It’s the easiest thing to ask yourself, “What do I want in life?” It is infinitely better to rephrase it like so: “What am I willing to suffer for?”
In a team or organization, this very question should be the driving force of all members’ motives. It’s in your best interest, as the leader, to ask your people this most fundamental of questions.
I get things done because of influence and credibility
Having “boss” as an official designation can only get you so much, a less potent kind of authority. It’s easier for people to put their trust on someone who they know to be (1) competent and (2) credible. The former is more straightforward. The best indicator for competence is the person’s track record. My advice on Election Day: Do not vote for the son of the politician who boasts no qualifications whatsoever.
The latter makes for a more worthwhile exploration. Credibility necessitates a more intensive analysis. What most people overlook is the fact that whatever you really are is exactly what other people regard you as. I had a boss in the past who, at first, we thought of as industrious and clever. Little by little, the people working for him learned that he was not the most productive of people (YouTube video bingeing) and that his technical knowledge of our product, or lack thereof, manifested despite his posturing.
To be credible, there should be no secrets. If you want people to know you’re good in problem-solving, you have to work on solving problems and put your money where your mouth is. If you’re not skilled in, say, MS Excel, there is no bigger mistake than claiming to be an expert. I always say people are usually smarter than you give them credit for. They will know, given time, what you stand for, what you’re capable of, and who you really are.
The things I just mentioned might sound all too obvious, but I must insist not everyone takes it to heart. In his seminal book “The 48 Laws of Power”, author Robert Greene brings forward such recommendations as “Conceal your intentions”, “Make your accomplishments seem effortless”, and “Court attention at all costs”. Such advice is antiquated, and if you applied them to your own brand of leadership, people would see right through you.
I should have mentioned in the beginning that I’m but a guy with my own experiences, biases, and influences. Like with anything, please take all the aforementioned advice with a grain of salt.