If They Take Away My Title...
I just finished giving a talk to a group of salespeople and I began thinking about leadership in business and organizations. At my previous job, I managed a big golf property with lots of moving parts – golf, food & beverage, weddings, special events, merchandise, lodging and marketing. Over my 26 years there, I thought a great deal about leadership and how to get the most out of myself and our staff. My favorite quote about leadership is “If they take away my title, will they still follow me?” I’ve seen it used in several articles and I believe it provides the framework for how a leader should think when it comes to dealing with their organizations. My situation was a for-profit business, but it applies to just about any type of group that wants to function well.
When I would use this quote with the staff, I consistently talked about creating the right kind of atmosphere, so there was an environment where people wanted to succeed for themselves and the group - the group defined as the business and all of our employees. Once we established that the atmosphere was critical to our success; then we would talk about how to create that atmosphere. Well, there’s the hard part. People with different personalities and styles have different ideas on leading. I’ve known leaders in different organizations that barked orders all day and knew that things would get done because he/she said so. Things may have gotten done, but you could tell from the employees’ demeanors and their interaction with customers that it was just a “job” for them. There didn’t seem to be any personal or professional satisfaction in what they were doing, and certainly not a “big picture” mentality when it came to the overall success of the operation. If the nameplate on your desk is the only reason someone is listening to you; you’re never going to get the best out of those folks. And that has to affect performance in every area.
In the golf business, there are lots of long hours because the place is open daylight to dark, seven days a week. We decided early on that if we were going to spend more time with fellow employees than we did with family, we better be having a good time. Plus, our business is really entertainment for our customers, so we wanted that feeling to come across to those we served. Our goal was to be professional, but have fun with our customers like we would friends. As a leader, I would try to set the “tone” for the place. We talked a lot about building relationships with our guests, and I think the same is important for the staff. I believe that if the group knows how much you care for them personally and professionally, then they will go the extra mile for you, the organization, and the people they serve.
In Jim Collins’ fantastic book Good to Great, he discusses that some leaders are “showhorses” and some leaders are “workhorses.” There is a healthy debate on which of those is best for an organization, but I think a combination of those two produce the most successful leaders. That may be difficult if you have a personality or style that leans hard one way, but recognizing the “other horse” and what it brings to the table would be very helpful.
I encouraged our staff to look at their natural styles and tendencies and do their best to be themselves when leading others, while fostering an atmosphere of buy-in. It comes off as unnatural and disingenuous if you try to be something you’re not. That being said, if your style is authoritative and condescending, then there is work to be done with empathy, compassion, and appreciation. On the other side, if your style is passive and timid, then there is work to be done with confidence, poise, and tenacity.
The quote says it all: “if they take away my title, will they still follow me?” If you dig deep into that, it will force you to confront the things that you are doing – and not doing – to be an effective leader. Identify the qualities that you admire in leaders and what would make you want to follow them - not because you have to, but because you want to.