It’s not about being nice

About 6 years ago I was bestowed with the responsibilities of leading marketing initiative for my Toastmasters’ district. The mission was to grow the district’s membership. So, I set an ambitious goal of going from 9,000 to 12,000 paid members (I think, it was a long time back) by the end of my term (a year). And by the time I was through, I ended up with a few hundred above the baseline figures.

It was a disaster. And besides the stupid politics I involuntarily ended up fighting (and failed) I also realised that my ideas on leading people were fundamentally flawed at that time. My focus was on communicating the district’s vision along with the whats, whys, and “how can I help you achieve our mission?”

I thought I was doing the right things — communicating clearly and keeping things transparent while being (very) nice to my people. It came easy to me as I didn’t deviate from whom I was as a person. But it wasn’t effective. The results just weren’t there. Upon deeper investigation, I realised that a good chunk of my team (let’s say 8 out of the 10 leaders under me) were colluding with a “higher-up” to build up a “clout” against me.

It was devastating. And I couldn’t help but get distracted by the resisting authority and self-blame spiral. Saying that it wasn’t a pleasant experience would be an understatement.

In retrospect, I’m glad I experienced that horrendous year. I wouldn’t have been the wiser and mature leader I am today. I also believe the one thing I didn’t do well was that I never really paid attention to “growing my team members” or get to understand them or their career aspirations (within Toastmasters). I thought communicating the District’s mission, being transparent, open, and being super-nice to them was enough. I was so damn wrong!

I should’ve taken the initiative to know and grow my people. More than hammering in mission and vision, I should have asked them what drove them to be part of the team, how I could’ve helped them grow, and achieve their biggest or most challenging goals. That was my biggest priority. I wish someone had told me about it. Or perhaps, I had the wisdom to seek mentorship to navigate through that phase of my life.

Thankfully, things have changed. I now have both coaches and mentors to guide me through some of life’s biggest challenges. But most importantly, I’ve learned the value of growing people more than hammering in my company or team’s mission or vision statement. Those words read and sound great but to inspire action you really have to build a relationship with your team.

And the best way to inspire action is to take the initiative to know your team and help the grow. It’s not as sexy as barking out orders and giving speeches but it’s highly effective in achieving results that matter. Your job as a leader isn’t to be just nice to them but to help them achieve their dreams. Do that and they’ll take care of everything else for you.

Do you know what keeps your team members up at night? What are their biggest challenges/fears in life or at the workplace? How can you help them navigate through these challenges? How well do you know your team?

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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