The Leadership Compass

A few years ago, my good friend Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, came up with an interesting concept about how leadership is like the face of a compass, with four points—south, north, east, and west.

When people talk about leadership, they are usually talking about the compass pointing south. When you lead south, you are the leader and your job is to help your people win. Spencer Johnson and I wrote about this in The One Minute Manager. You work with your people on goal setting, praise them when they do well, and redirect them when they get off track.

When you manage north, it’s about influencing up—which is the subject of my book with Susan Fowler and Lawrence Hawkins, Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager. How do you get what you need to succeed? You must develop the right mindset and skillset to ask your boss for exactly what you need.

Then there’s leading east and west, which is all about supporting your colleagues and others in your peer group. When you know how to lead laterally and create win-win situations with your peers, it can have a very positive effect on the culture. Leading east and west is also about the mentoring that can happen among people of any rank or age as long as one person has something they can learn from another.

What’s really key to the compass analogy is what is at the center of the compass: you. The most difficult leadership challenge we all have is ourselves. Meeting that challenge begins by being self-aware. It doesn’t matter how many points we hit around the compass if we’re not strong in the middle. Take a hard look at yourself. Figure out what you need to do to be the kind of leader you want to be.

If you want to be a 360-degree leader, you need to learn how to lead in all four directions—south, where  you serve the people who report to you; north, where relationship and influence help you manage those with authority over you; and east and west where you guide and encourage your peers. And don’t forget to keep the compass point centered by knowing you are the best leader you can be so that you can maximize your influence on others.

Catch People Doing Something Right

Asian Business PeopleI believe the key to developing employees and building a great organization is to wander around and catch people doing things right. This is a powerful management concept that isn’t used as often as it should be. Unfortunately, most leaders tend to focus on the things that are being done wrong so they can fix them.

The best way to start this habit is to take an hour out of your week to just walk around and observe what goes on in your organization. I know you’ll see several examples of people who are doing the right thing: conducting business with corporate values in mind. When you see this happening, praise the individual.

Remember, though—effective praising has to be specific. Just walking around saying “thanks for everything” is meaningless. If you say “great job” to a poor performer and the same thing to a good performer, you’ll sound ridiculous to the poor performer and you’ll demotivate the good performer.

For example, in a retail environment you might see an employee walk with a customer to a different location in the store in order to show the customer where to find a certain item. An effective praising would sound like this: “Mary, I noticed just now how you put the customer first by taking her to the merchandise she was looking for instead of just pointing in the general direction. That is an excellent example of living by our values. Keep it up.”

This principle can also help relationships flourish at home. If your school-aged child makes his bed or does his homework without being asked, let him know right away that you notice and appreciate his efforts. Be timely and specific with your praise.

Catching people doing things right provides satisfaction and motivates good performance. So remember: give praise immediately, make it specific, and encourage the person to keep up the good work. It’s a great way to interact with and affirm the people in your life—and it will make you feel good about yourself too.