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Are You Making a Difference?


Although leaders may get great personal satisfaction from leading a team that accomplishes greatness, it’s in giving to others that creates conditions for the work to be exceptional. That means that leaders who want to make a difference must put an effort into satisfying the needs of those who are on the ground doing the work.

A couple of anecdotal contrasting illustrations might be in order:

Henry talked a great game about being the person who thinks big and sets the vision for his team. Yet when it came down to it, he just couldn’t keep his fingers out of the daily work. He controlled, cajoled, and demanded that things be done his way, without listening to the ideas of the smart people responsible for the work. His way or the highway became a disaster. Within a year, his team was defeated and failed to meet any of the goals he’d committed to. He was dismissed from his position shortly thereafter.

On the other hand, Gail also set a vision that stretched her large team. She communicated often to them in as many ways that she could to help them understand the vision and make sense of their role in it. She counted on her managers to make sure that all employees were on track. Trust was high, and consensus-building was expected. She coached those who wanted it, and helped to guide the activities without getting involved in the daily work. Within a year, the team had met its goals, felt great about them, and were on track for more successes. Gail continued to lead this organization well for another year, when she received a promotion.

What led to the different outcomes? Henry was a taker; his way of leading entailed his selfish belief that he was the only one who knew how to get things done. He wore himself and his team out with his controlling style. Gail gave of herself freely, was in frequent communication, coaching her direct reports, and assuring that expectations were clear. She energized her team with her trusting style.

Henry failed, and Gail prevailed.

But there was more than meets the eye. Gail had a sense of purpose that allowed her to communicate in a way that inspired employees and showed them the way forward. Although she was solid in her communication ability, it was this sense of purpose that drove her to act in a way that won the hearts and minds of those in her organization. She knew exactly what her organization was there for and communicated her passion for it to the employees.

Trust in her team that was reciprocated back in high quality work, done on time and without a need for her to get involved in the minutia. She developed relationships that were strong, mutual, and led to results. She coached those who wanted it, allowing them to come up with their own ways of getting to the end results. And when they messed up, she invited them to debrief what went wrong without judgment.

Gail made a difference in the lives of those around her by giving her thoughts, time, and her trust. These are gifts that drive great leadership and make a difference in organizations. What are you giving to others that will make a difference?

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive consulting firm.

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