Most leadership enthusiasts, like myself, love quotes. We pull them into presentations, articles, and day-to-day conversations. Quotes are satisfyingly small nuggets of timeless wisdom. They can speak volumes in their brevity. I’ve been reviewing some of my favorite quotes recently, and rediscovered four that I think could be considered essential for any organizational leader to understand.
Jeff Cufaude introduced me to this quote over a decade ago. It’s fairly conventional wisdom now that the best leaders are not the ones who rely on the “do it or else” technique. We just don’t have the tolerance for strict authority in our leaders anymore. Instead, we want to be driven towards achievement by the understanding that our work matters, and that we are not the only ones who want the group to succeed. When a group of individuals unite around shared purpose and objectives, it is a group that will find a way to win. When that doesn’t exist – when we don’t share a common purpose with our teammates – then what devices are left to the leader? As Dee Hock states, “command and control.” A leader who tries to command their group to perform, or control their activities, is one that has lost them. So, when you return to campus this fall, ask yourself: how can I ensure that our members understand and believe in the mission we’re trying to achieve? By reaching that point, your team will almost drive itself.
One idea is to take the first meeting of the year, or even better, find a time for a retreat, and do nothing more than review the mission and purpose of your organization. Ask members to reflect on how they can personally support that purpose, and what needs to happen collectively in order for the purpose to be realized more fully this year. Every group needs to get re-centered now and then, and the start of a new year feels like the right time to do it.
Organizational culture is a powerful thing. Peter Drucker found a way to personify it as perhaps the strongest thing living within an organization. You can spend months or years creating visions and plans, but your success will be dependent on the capability of the culture to accept and implement those ideas. You may wish for your organization to become the strongest and best on campus. Yet, your culture may be one that rewards and encourages mediocrity. You may wish for your members to have the highest GPA on campus. Yet, your culture may downplay academics in favor of parties and alcohol.
So how do you change or affect culture? It’s the tallest task leaders can face. The most effective way is to remove the cancerous cells. To cut out those who most negatively influence the culture you are trying to build. At the very least, stop providing those individuals with forums and outlets by which to be so influential. For example, don’t take a slacker and make him new member educator.
If you are writing goals and plans for your organization (good) then add a column entitled “culture.” Reflect on what kind of culture you have right now – is it one that takes a person and lifts them up, or tears them down? Does it seek opportunities for the organization to be its best, or to be its worst? Expect that what you write in that column will need to be addressed first.
This quote is probably the most succinct explanation of contemporary leadership that I could find. Keep in mind, as you take this journey of leadership, that you will be remembered more for who you were than what you did. That’s not to minimize the expectation that all leaders and organizations are forward-moving and achievement-oriented. However, the best leaders understand that without attention and care for others, lasting achievement isn’t truly possible. You can be the kind of leader that very few people experience in their lives – the one that makes them want to be better and want to do more.
So, take the extra time to provide feedback to someone that deserves to hear how great they’re doing. Take the even more time to provide feedback to someone who’s getting off course. And take the most time to simply sit and listen to someone else, for that simple act can be the most significant of all.
The essential question is, when you engage with those you lead, how do you make them feel?
Organizations of all shapes and sizes are notorious for getting caught up in things that just don’t really matter. Whether it’s personal drama, minutia, or small ideas, we are all susceptible to be being distracted away from the big stuff. What is the big stuff? Mission. Vision. Values. As a leader, you will be challenged to keep this front and center, and not get too caught up in T-shirt colors, gossip, and colossal wastes of time.
You may want to start this year with an audit of how your organization spends its time and energy. Are you focused on the right things? As I’ve written about before, if historians were to judge this period in your organization’s history, would they give you high marks for focusing on significant issues? Imagine you were putting items on a scale. Which item would weigh more (meaning it’s a greater focus)? And, is that the way it should be? For example, what would the balancing scale read for:
New Member Education vs. Greek Week
Initiation vs. Annual theme party
Service Projects vs. Formals
Recruitment vs. Intramurals
It’s not that you can’t or shouldn’t have small things (e.g., intramurals) as part of your fraternity experience. That’s the fun stuff that can fill in the gaps. But the big ticket items should never suffer because of those, or ever take a back seat.
So, to summarize the lessons that these famous quotes provide, focus on things that matter such as the people you lead and the shared purpose that unites the entire organization. Doing so will create a culture that embraces excellence. That sounds like a great start to the year.
Please feel free to share your favorite quotes below. What words of wisdom drive you and your leadership experience?