As I mentioned in a prior blog entry, the other day I had a conversation for over an hour with my old friend and mentor. He's now in his seventies. He was and still is a leader in both title and function. He is one of those few individuals who can light up a room when he walks in. Everyone notices. Not because he is brash or loud but because he embodies a quiet yet overwhelming force of integrity and positivity. In fact, when I worked for him I remember thinking that I could take a bullet for him. That was how effective he was in instilling loyalty, commitment, and motivation in his people.
The reason why I went through all that description above is to set up this one outstanding attribute that my extraordinary friend and mentor has. You might be surprised. And the attribute is this: his sincere respect for anyone he works with no matter his or her age or station in life. He said he feels that as God's creations made in His image, we are all ultimately equal and worthy of respect. You need not be religious to understand the underlying spiritual message here.
When I hear managers and executives complain about their bad workers, I automatically look at their leadership ability. What I never fail to see is their lack of clear self assessment. Leaders don't have bad workers. There are only bad workers in need of good leaders. From my experience, there is no better way to change a bad worker's mindset than to give him or her sincere respect. When you treat people like how you see them -- their current talent, their future potential -- they tend to behave like how you see them. It is analogous to how some people will throw trash down in a dirty environment, but you won't see the very same people behave like that in a spotless room with shiny floors.
Will people make mistakes and act up from time to time? Sure. But leadership isn't a computer code that ensures predictable movements in robots. The recipients are real human beings with mood swings and external issues beyond your relationship with them. So be patient and nonjudgmental. Hold steady and build for the long run.
Of course there are other attributes of great leaders but when it comes down to the practice of leadership in the real world, in my opinion this core belief of truly respecting others is the single most effective approach for leaders and soon-to-be leaders.