Personally, I believe that a strong leader allows for opinions that are contrary to their own. In fact, I have at least one employee that disagrees with me on a regular basis and I foster that contrariness. I am not infallible and certainly do not know everything. I do not want “yes (wo)men”.
As a leader, part of the role is to understand the larger scope of things and the long term strategy behind decisions. In really comprehending this, you NEED people who are contrary to your opinion, your work style, and your thought patterns. This allows you to round out areas that you’re blind and avoid making a decision that is wrong simply because you don’t have the visibility.
I equate it somewhat to having a passenger in the car who happens to look out your side-rear window and yells “Look out!”, even though you’ve been checking all of your mirrors. They have a different vantage point that is more focused (only looking at the side) where as you are responsible for all aspects – front, back, and both sides. You need to trust that someone who is focused on a specific area might have a better view, better information, or better knowledge about what’s occurring in that arena.
This, however, does NOT mean that a strong leader allows an individual to derail everything or to argue with everything. At that point, you have a backseat driver in your car and should probably ask them to tone it down or step out. There is certainly a fine line between constant disagreement with your employee and strong leadership accepting the varied opinions of your team. If your employee is constantly diverging from your vision and direction, there comes a time when you (and they) need to make a decision on whether or not the individual belongs on your team.
In the case of my employee, s/he agrees with the vision; s/he agrees with the direction. S/he just doesn’t always agree with my direction and is willing to stand up for what s/he believes. Once the decision is made and the direction is given, s/he accepts it and moves on. There is true mutual respect and it boils down to a simple fact: I have the final say. Someone has to.
That is how your, as a leader, should allow your team to bring their strengths to the table.
The other day, I saw an image floating around and it struck me as a good way to live and run a business. Whether it’s sales, service & support, an operational business, or some other way that you’re running your business, it’s the people that you build off of; it’s not the business that builds itself.
Too many companies, both large and small, believe that the business will sustain itself and that the people in it don’t really matter a great deal. I hold this to be a fallacy and have never seen a successful department, organization or business that treats its employees without respect. At a macro level, a large company may be able to succeed (and succeed well) when a single department or organization doesn’t hold their people as a treasure mine, but once you get down to it, the fact is that particular group is likely failing itself and being propped up by the larger company.
It’s a fairly simple concept, though. Support your team, lead your vision, and your team will execute towards success. Build the business without the people and you’ll likely be alone when everything comes crumbling down beside you.
Back in 2006, I was reading a blog by “The Rainmaker”, Rick Roberge, that I wanted to dredge up from the annals of history. The MIT class president of 2006 told a story about corn. Fascinating, isn’t it? Well, honestly, the story itself made a lot of sense and drives home how working together brings the best food (foot ;)) forward for everyone. This farmer was both a good neighbor (sharing his corn) and a selfish one (looking to ensure his corn wasn’t degraded). Yet the net of the matter is that everyone benefited — a positive impact. Be aware that your decisions and your choices can have a lasting impact on yourself as well as those around you.
Here’s the story…
“There was a farmer who grew corn. Every year his county held a contest to determine which farmer grew the best corn. Every year he won. Year after year this farmer grew the best corn in the county and he won the award. One day, a visitor noticed that this farmer gave some of his best seed to one of his neighbors. The visitor asked why he was sharing his best seed with his neighbor. Wasn’t he concerned that their corn would be better than his? Wasn’t he concerned that they would eventually win the contest for having the best corn in the county? The farmer explained that the winds in the county pick up the corn pollen from all of the neighboring farms and deposit it to all of the other neighbors, so some of his corn pollen ends up on his neighbors’ farm and some of his neighbors’ corn pollen ends up on his farm. If his neighbors’ corn was very inferior and it was deposited on his award winning corn, wouldn’t his own corn become less superior. By sharing his best seed with his neighbors, the pollen that was deposited on his farm was better than it would have been had he not shared and his corn wasn’t degraded by the blown in pollen.” (Kimberly Wu, class president of MIT, 2006 as posted by Rick Roberge).