Any leader can give reasons for failing to achieve acceptable results. The best leaders overcome inevitable challenges, and some of those leaders make it look easy. Some seem to drive results effortlessly, while others struggle.
Why do so many smart, well-intentioned leaders have difficulty getting the outcomes they desire? What is the secret sauce of being a great leader?
The truth is, a leader can accomplish almost anything if he or she provides a team with two things: clarity and energy.
After reading my leadership book, Education of a CEO, it is common for people to ask, “Is the bear story true?”
Yes, it is. The short version is that we have bears in our central Florida neighborhood. The county says there are about 550 of them, but we only see them a couple times a year. I once was shooing bears off our back porch in the middle of the night, and one of the bears would not leave. I was afraid the bear was going to break through the glass doors, and I was ready to shoot if necessary, although I would have been sad if things came to that.
The embarrassing part of this story is that I eventually realized it was not a bear stalking the house, but instead a chair on the back porch.
In the middle of that night, I lacked clarity.
Employees crave clarity. It is the leader’s job to ensure that employees know everything they need to know and, as much as possible, what they want to know.
As a CEO, one of my most important responsibilities is creating clarity, especially around key areas, such as vision (our team needs to be clear about where we are going); values (people need to understand what is important to us, and how our culture pyramid communicates that); why we exist (we are “making life better”); our strategic plan (each of our teams knows its goals for the next three to five years, and how we plan to achieve them); and budget (our teams understand their current-year performance expectations).
When there is a lack of clarity or miscommunication about what is important in an organization, the leader often blames the team for failing to listen carefully. However, lack of clarity or miscommunication is always the leader’s fault.
The leader must identify what is important and communicate it again and again. There are many opportunities for miscommunication in the distance between the leader’s head and the employee’s ear. That’s why communication often needs to be repeated.
Despite the challenges, creating clarity is easier if a leader accepts responsibility, is intentional about it, and is willing to invest the time necessary to communicate important topics repeatedly. And when a leader does create clarity about the above items, the results are often exceptional.
When I served for several years on the University of Central Florida board, I always found it exciting to attend the school’s athletic events. Football games played in the “Bounce House” were full of energy. Energy is powerful, and it is up to leaders to provide that power to their teams.
Many leaders falsely believe it is the employee’s responsibility to provide their own motivation, or the leaders simply don’t want to try to energize their team. This is a big mistake. An energized team can get a lot accomplished. It takes effort to provide energy to your team, but the benefits to the organization are exponential.
Whether or not we like the responsibility, leaders either provide energy to a team or de-energize them. Some ways I have found to energize a team include creating clarity (it is de-energizing to be craving clarity and not get it); showing a personal interest in your team (everyone wants to know they are important and valued); being an optimist (read Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman to understand how an optimistic leader can turbocharge an organization, because no one wants to follow a pessimist); and remembering not to wear your feelings on your sleeve (being irritated, frustrated or just having a bad day affects the whole team).
The goal is to be a high-affirmation leader. People get tremendous energy from knowing that their leader thinks they are doing well and appreciates them. Some leaders believe that affirmation will cause team members to think too highly of themselves and slack off. That is crazy. Other leaders have trouble giving anyone credit, no matter how well-deserved. That is sad. My experience is that employees appreciate affirmation; it makes them more loyal while providing them with a boatload of energy.
The items above may not feel natural to you, but it is still your job to provide energy to your team. Being an energizer has a tremendous return on investment. If you are sincere, the energy you provide your team will drive great results.
Leaders are often looking for ways to improve results. Providing clarity and energy is the way to accomplish anything with your team. n
Bill Yeargin is president and CEO of Correct Craft, and has authored five books, including the bestseller Education of a CEO.
This article was originally published in the October 2022 issue.