Here’s an idea I share with my clients: We don’t actually get to decide what kind of leaders or communicators we are. Instead, the people in our lives decide the degree to which they value our impact. Whether you lead or manage people, look now through your employees’ eyes and ask, “Would I want to work for me?”
Years ago I interviewed 40 leaders, locally and internationally, to learn something about what made them tick. One question I asked was if they read about leadership or other topics to inform their actions. What I found was the leaders who read often were more concise and on-point during interviews. Those who said they didn’t read much wandered while answering questions. Recently, two clients sent me insightful reads on leadership. These clients are already on the path to being excellent bosses, conscious of the constructive impact they can and want to have with their employees. They read.
One sent me a Harvard Business Review article, “Secrets of the Superbosses” by Sydney Finkelstein. Finkelstein defines “superbosses” as people who typically look for confidence, competitiveness and imagination in prospective employees. They don’t simply hire traditionally credentialed talent that organizations hold tightly to these days; rather they mine for “intelligence, creativity and flexibility.” Consider that neither Steve Jobs, Rachel Ray, Larry Ellison or Richard Branson earned college degrees. Finkelstein says superbosses look for people “who can approach problems from new angles, handle surprises, learn quickly and excel in any position.”
Ponder the joys of experiencing such a boss as you peruse today’s job boards that often include — even for entry level positions — requirements more suited to high-level executive searches of 20 or even 10 years ago. Instead, truly great leaders think creatively when mining for uniquely desirable candidates, knowing that typical and often uninspired questions won’t deliver the fittest hires. So they get creative with interview tactics.
Some leaders take interviewees on hikes, others have them work through mock workplace scenarios. Finkelstein writes that Ralph Lauren asked people to explain their clothing choices and once “made a runway model the head of women’s design ‘for no other reason than she seemed to get it — she got the clothes.’” These bosses may look at credentials, but are uniquely willing to take chances on those who may not have the perfect resume or even a college degree. They are open to actual talent, not the preconceived notion of what talent should look like and where it should come from.
Another client sent me a chapter from the book The Firm of the Future, by Paul Dunn and Ronald Baker, entitled “Human Capital: Your People Are Not Assets, They Are Volunteers.” In great detail, the authors talk about how “conscious leadership” creates company cultures focused on valuing employee abilities versus the “days-of-old” mentality where employees were counted more as human capital assets, much like pieces of machinery. The authors argue that leaders should think of employees as volunteers, “…since whether they return to work on any given day is completely based on their own volition.” Companies would do well to pivot from asking “How much is this person worth to the firm?” to “How much is this firm worth to this knowledge worker?”
Yet I frequently work with leaders who seem dismayed that their employees do not show greater responsiveness and loyalty. “I’m giving them a paycheck, what more do they want?” is often the kind of comment I hear. But behind that comment is an outdated worldview that doesn’t consider outside perspectives. Commonly people, especially young people, look for meaning in their work, along with the paycheck. They want to make a difference. Those literate leaders that I mentioned earlier understand that reading opens up their perspectives, helping them to map out their own path in working with others.
Excellent leaders know that creative people are hungry for fast-paced careers and new challenges. So they don’t lead so much as focus on pulling the excellence out of their employees. It’s not employee dependency they’re after, but interdependency. They never hold employees back. Preferring to take the long view of building interdependent relationships, rather than sinking into the territory of presumed loyalty, these bosses don’t dwell in disappointment and what is owed them.
Canadian journalist and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell says expertise takes 10 years or 10,000 hours to develop. The same holds true for becoming a boss with whom people really want to work. Since Jon Stewart left The Daily Show, people generally lament that his replacement is good, but no Jon Stewart.’ But Jon Stewart wasn’t even Jon Stewart in his early days; he grew into the role. Not only did he get better with time, but he has displayed an incredible ability to seek out and further inspire talented people, almost all of whom have gone on to become stars in their own right while happily collaborating with Stewart as “producer” along the way. The road to excellence requires lots of practice, failure and time.
So, would you want to work for you? Do you firmly stand in your employees’ corner, building their confidence by helping them see the talent you see? Are they given the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, rather than worry about being punished for missteps? Do you listen well? Walt Disney famously “walked the park” to talk with and listen to all levels of employees, often implementing their ideas. His employees experienced being seen and valued by Disney himself. Seeing people’s talents firsthand helps everyone grow. That’s when people decide whether they want to work for you.