You can be as smart as you want. Other people choose if you will be successful.
It is easy to think of individual achievement as the key to our success. It’s easy to think the important factors are our intelligence, our hard work, our education, and our drive to perform. And this is true, up to a point.
But the truth everything we do as a leader has a social component. Whatever we do, wherever we go, we are connected in some way to the people around us. At work, the social network consists of the people in the organization. That network is multi-dimensional and constantly shifting. And more than your own individual efforts, that network will determine if you personally succeed. The team you lead and the peers you work with will decide, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, if they are will make you successful or not.
Think about that reality for a minute. Think about people in your organization who rally around a project and put in extra time and effort when someone needs help. Think about those people who speak well of their supervisor, engage in problem-solving and drive results. The leader of these people will likely succeed. Now ask yourself if that level of commitment and drive is uniform across all teams in your organization. Are there some teams whose members roll their eyes when the leader speaks, who work the minimum, and who are essentially saying, “It’s not my problem?”
The people around you will decide if they will make you successful. That decision will be based on your engagement, your compassion, and your willingness to make them better. When you speak, do you speak in a way that communicates care and concern for what people are doing? Do people feel trusted and respected? Are you open to hear their ideas and focused enough to be present in the conversation? Are your words and body language communicating the same message, or is there a disconnect?
If the answers to these questions are “no”, you and your team will likely fail. If people perceive you are trying to advance yourself rather than the team, and work through team members rather than with them, they will find ways to ensure your success is limited. If you believe your position is what matters, and not your behavior, and if you discount relationships and followership, you and your team will likely fail. Likewise if you speak down to people, do not listen carefully, do not “see” the people around you, and you believe you are an expert who can fix and correct things.
There are countless examples in organizations where people have expelled a leader they did not respect. What we often miss in our understanding is that while the leader failed, if he/she would have engaged the team differently, the team could have filled the gaps in performance and created success. A team’s defense against a bad leader is to shut down, withdraw, and hit minimal standards rather than striving for excellence. They will create disharmony and strife, and that will create a general negative view of the leader. You see this particularly when a team has been in place for a while, and there’s a new leader from the outside. The new leader doesn’t win the team over, is not open, and talks about the faults of the group. That leader can fail rapidly.
What are you doing to build a healthy relationship with your team so that they know you care, they know you value their input and thinking, and you see each person’s strengths and not just the flaws? How will you communicate to them that you will do whatever you can, not just to make yourself successful, but them successful as well?