By Lee Smith – co-founder, Gatehouse
In 1932 Dale Carnegie published a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Today, it’s sold 13 million copies. Most people read it and think: “That’s interesting”, then shut the book and forget all about it. But I heard a story about Warren Buffett, one of the world’s most successful investors. Apparently, he’s fascinated by it. So much that he decided to do a statistical analysis of what happened if he followed Dale Carnegie’s rules – and what would happen if he didn’t.
He tried giving some people attention and appreciation, and then others nothing. Sometimes he would be deliberately crabby, just to see what happened. He tracked all his results. What he found was that the numbers proved Carnegie’s theory – the rules in the book worked!
I love this story because sooner or later as a manager you realise that many of the people you depend on for your success don’t actually report to you. And that’s when you realise just how important influence and persuasion is to leadership.
Knowing how to inspire people – not just amongst your own team, but across a wider network of internal stakeholder – will define you as a leader.
Here’s four stories that I think reveal important points about leading staff to success:
1 – Leaders set the direction
Once upon a time, a group of soldiers became lost in the Alps. They were hungry and disoriented. They argued about which way to go, but in the fading light every peak looked the same. The soldiers had no chance of surviving the night in the freezing temperatures.
Suddenly, a miracle.
One of them found a map sewn into the lining of his kitbag. He plotted a route, and marched them briskly back to base. Later, when they were warm and well fed, the soldier looked closer at his map. It actually was of the Pyrenees – hundreds of miles away.
It’s like the old saying – when you’re lost, any old map will do.
Take-away: Leadership entails vision. Otherwise where are you leading people to? If you don’t know where you want to go to – and if you can’t communicate that direction effectively – then you have no right to ask people to join you on the journey.
2 – Great leaders let people get on with it
Bad leaders like to ‘shake the pan’.
You see this a lot on TV cooking shows. The producer tells the chef to keeping shuffling the risotto around the pan. It’s more fun to watch, but apparently it’s not always the best way to cook.
To top chefs, learning when to leave food alone – when to resist the temptation to flip the steak – is as important as learning when to manipulate it. It’s the same for leaders. Great leaders know when to stir things up and when to let it simmer.
3 – Leaders hire the right people
One thing a lot of people miss: being a great leader starts before your team even start work.
Publishing magnate Felix Dennis used to say: never seek a replica of yourself to delegate to, or to promote.
Apparently, it’s a common error in leaders. You have strengths and you have weaknesses in your own character – so it makes no sense to increase those strengths your organisation already possesses and not address the weaknesses.
Ad man David Ogilvy was also a big proponent of only ever hiring people who were smarter than them.
He kept a set of Russian nesting dolls, and would place sets around his offices to illustrate a point: “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”
I hear they’re still dotted around Ogilvy offices today.
Take-away: Consistently hiring people who are smarter than yourself could be the greatest legacy you leave.
4 – Leaders understand what really motivates staff
Restaurateur Danny Meyer says that he learned about managing employees from working on John Anderson’s 1980 presidential campaign.
“Learning to manage volunteers – to whom, absent a pay-check, ideas and ideals were the only currency – taught me to view all employees essentially as volunteers” he writes in his book, Setting the Table.
“Today, even with compensation as a motivator, I know that anyone who works for my company chooses to do so because of what we stand for.”
Take-away: As a leader it’s up to you to provide solid reasons for your employees to want to work for you – a sense of meaning and purpose – over and beyond their pay-check