If Everyone Is Special, Then No One Is: 3 Tips for Leaders

 Assembly line at Hyundai Motor Company’s car f...

Can leadership be mass-produced, like cars or lawnmowers or televisions?   Most of us agree that the answer to this question is “no”.  But we, as HR / OD professionals, like  the idea that we can generate universally applicable leadership practices that can be applied any leader, all leaders, in the name of leadership development.

I’ve struggeled with this.  Years ago, I questioned the value of service awards.  Not, mind you, in an open employee forum.  I made this scandalous comment in an HR staff meeting.  We were talking about how to implement a new service award program.  We had a director with very high employee satisfaction scores and her team praised the little things she did to make them feel special on their annual service anniversary.  Being in HR, our team had conducted employee interviews and discovered that few managers followed this practice – including me.

I explained that while I understood the purpose of recognizing significant service anniversaries, I didn’t see the point of thanking people for each year they hung out with us.  I would rather recognize people for their meaningful accomplishments.  You would have thought I suggested we all come to work with blue hair. 

Deutsch: Fotoshooting für billisich.atThe team wanted all managers to follow this practice. We had proof that it was successful.   I argued that a mandate was not the way to go and, by the way, we were diluting the great practices of the director whose team loved her celebration of their service anniversaries.

So here is how the meeting went.  We established a policy that every manager would send a note (hand written or via email) to every employee on their service anniversary every single year.  We left with an action to look into automating the note through our HRIS system. 

Why am I thinking about this right now?  A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to hear Marcus Buckingham speak at the AZHREF (Arizona HR Executive Forum).  He described a manager who used, among other things, a whistle to energize his team.  His successful techniques were described to other managers, who got whistles.  And then, like magic, rules appeared around when to blow and NOT blow the whistle.  The point, he told us, is not to codify a perfect list of standard management practices.  The point is that each leader is a unique individual who grows as a leader by playing to their strengths. 

So what do you need to know as a leader?

  • Leaders are self-reflective: spend time knowing yourself and knowing your values.
  • Leaders are authentic: act from what is true and real for you.
  • Leaders are transparent: say what is on your mind in a way that is honest and open.

We can’t mass produce and authentic and compelling leader the same we build a beautiful new car or awesome TV.  Leadership is, at its heart, about people connecting with people.  We can’t all be “special” and we can’t all motivate our teams by blowing a whistle or celebrating an anniversary.  We can only be who we are, and seek the leader within.

Photo credits: Wikipedia

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