I think the best way to identify a potential leader is to ask people: “Who do you enjoy working with? Who do you respect in the workforce?” The names you hear in answer to those questions are the kind of people you want to identify as potential leaders and promote. I’ll never forget, in the seventh grade I was elected president of my class. I came home and told my Dad, who was a career navy officer. I said, “Dad, I won the election. I’m president of the class!” And my dad said, “Ken, that’s great! Now that you have that position—never use it. Great leaders are great because their people trust and respect them, not because they have power.” So think about it: Who do people trust and respect in your workplace? Who do people go to for advice who might not be a leader now? Those are the ones you want to identify. Those are the ones who have the potential to be leaders, because people are already attracted to them.
During tough economic times, I’m often asked how to build trust within an organization. People seem to be really down and don’t trust their leaders. I got the best advice about this from my friend Ichak Adizes, who used to be a professor at UCLA—a brilliant guy. He said, “You can’t talk about trust until you talk about respect.” There’s a nonverbal and verbal aspect of each of those. If I respect you, I face you, because I want to hear your opinion. If I don’t respect you, I turn my back on you, because I couldn’t care less what you think. But this it interesting—if I trust you, I’m willing to turn my back on you because I know you mean me no harm. If I don’t trust you, I face you because I need to watch your every move. So these two things work together. You can’t talk about building trust until you show respect. I’ve seen a lot of leaders who will go behind closed doors and start making decisions about other people’s lives. And the people outside the door don’t trust the intentions of the leaders inside; they think they’re in there to serve themselves.
One of the things we do to show respect for people in our company is to share our balance sheet with them so they know how the company is doing. We even brought in someone from Colorado to teach people how to read a balance sheet! We share this because we want everyone to always know where we stand as an organization. We have a gain-sharing program where we share a percentage of our profits with our people. We also have a “give back” program where we take a percentage of our profit and give it to our employees so they can each give money to a charity that is important to them. We want them involved—we show them respect and they trust us in return. I think it’s so powerful and so necessary to understand how those two things go together. If you don’t treat people with respect, they won’t trust you. Trust and respect go together.
People sometimes have a strange idea about what it means to be a leader, regardless of their field. Some merely “pose” as leaders because they are unsure how to lead effectively. Others may consider themselves to be naturally good leaders simply by virtue of their title or position, such as mother, store manager or lieutenant. To compound the problem, these people usually assume that everyone else also believes them to be good leaders merely because of their rank or title. The result can be insensitivity and a lack of consideration for those being supervised. Such an attitude can be death for any constructive leadership attempt. Following are two characteristics of a good leader or manager that illustrate this theory:
First, consider the act of listening. God gave us two ears and one mouth. This ratio of personal communication instruments should give us a clue about the proportion of time that each should be used! The hallmark of a good leader is the ability to listen to others, no matter what they want to say. It’s amazing how often this simple truth still mystifies leaders who think that their position means they should talk first and ask questions later, if ever. Many leaders forget how to be humble and recognize that they don’t know everything. In reality, they often have a great deal to learn about those they supervise as well as the job those people are doing. For some reason, they confuse their job title with some sort of overall expertise, which makes them overbearing and foolish in the eyes of their subordinates.
A second point concerns respect. I personally think it is a very important point to remember. Specifically, managers should treat those closest to them as though they were strangers. Let me explain that statement. Because we have people in our lives with whom we become very familiar, either at the workplace or at home, it is very easy to slip into a rather casual attitude toward these people who know us best. The result is sometimes an outward appearance of a lack of respect or love, expressed by how we speak or behave. When we are upset, busy or unhappy, it is very easy for us to snap at those closest to us. We may shout or become nasty or insulting simply because someone is nearby. However, if the telephone rings with a stranger on the line, we can immediately switch to a sweet, kind and considerate persona. Why? Because we would never insult a stranger with our surly attitude. This just doesn’t make sense. Why should you abuse your colleague, close friend, or child just because that person is nearby when a bad mood strikes? The answer is: You shouldn’t. Don’t beat up people emotionally just because you know they’re familiar with your mood swings.
Remember, the people you are closest to, at work and at home, deserve to be listened to and respected. Do you lead this way? Does your boss?