The best leaders take the time to believe in people so deeply that they come to believe it for themselves. The best leaders set the example for others to follow. They personify the way they want things done. They realize that the only way to lead is through congruence of thought, action and behavior for others. Simply put: they do what they say they will do. They follow up. They hold themselves accountable. They place their focus on the top 3 priorities and they focus only on these three. They also develop their own mantra for their lieutenants and others to follow. This statement of values acts as a beacon to others to guide them in their actions and daily behaviors. When in doubt, check the mantra. It helps guide decision-making.
Further, great leaders create structure and discipline where there is none. This goes from communication style to frequency of communication to how meetings are structured to giving feedback to others. We all need structure. We all need discipline. Without these two ideals, nothing productive would get done. We’d all be grasping for straws, doing whatever it was we thought was the right thing to be doing at the time. It is through structure that we know what needs to be done and by when. We also know when we are wasting time on activities that need not be done at all.
“There is nothing more useless than doing really well that which need not be done at all.”
— Peter Drucker
Please do not waste time on activities that which need not be done at all.
Structure gives us regular check-in intervals with ourselves, asking us whether what we’re doing right now is moving us closer to our goals. Structure gives us the roadmap to where it is we want to go. Structure makes sure that we’re getting the maximum bang for our time invested. Structure makes sure we’re not spending too much time in any one activity. Structure gives us goals to shoot for. Structure keeps us on track.
Confident people sell.
Ironically, structure even gives us confidence. Since it is through structure that we know what to do and when, it gives us confidence that we’re doing the right thing over and over again. And by doing the right thing over and over and over again, we get better at it. And by getting better at it, we get more competence. And through more competence, we grow our confidence. This becomes a virtuous circle of competence and confidence, like the infinity insignia. More competence = more confidence. Therefore, firm structure increases our confidence over time. We get good because our efforts are concentrated and aligned with our goals. Great leaders understand this and thus inculcate structure throughout the organization. And all great leaders desire more confident people in the firm because confident people sell. An organization cannot have enough confidence flowing throughout it. An organization cannot have enough salespeople.
Good structure gives people guidance, confidence and tools, and boundaries in which to work. While people will never ask for it, we crave structure, especially as children. But this need for it does not go away. We only push it away when we get our adult freedoms as teenagers. The irony of structure is we do not realize how badly we need it until we’ve pushed things too far and our lives have gone off the rails. Then, in order to get our lives back on track, we have to instill new rules, structures, to act as guide posts to our daily lives. Having lots of freedom is awesome until we overexploit it and take advantage of it. Then, we need help reeling ourselves back in.
The strange thing about structure is it earns us more freedom. The more we’re aligned with what it is we ought to be doing and we do it, the more freedom we earn. Then, the more freedom we earn, the more likely we are to push it too far and then we suddenly need more structure in our lives. While we all long for freedom of various sorts, we can only attain it through great structure and multiple acts of discipline over and over again. We all need help. Only some of us are willing to admit it.
Coaches understand the relationships between structure and freedom. Coaches specialize in both. Good coaches instill structure in their clients, giving them guardrails toward the behavior change they desire to see. The only real reason clients sign up for coaching is they acknowledge they need help with adult behavior change. While they are excellent here, here, and here, they are not so great over there. They want to improve the over there part. It takes guts to admit you need help. It is also a good quality of a leader.
Never be afraid to ask for help. Ever.
Coaches apply formal structure in their clients lives where they feel they need it. These can be new rules, new beliefs, new ways of going about things, new disciplines or practices, and new behavior triggers. Much of this happens in the form of, “When this happens, I do this…or I say this…” If our aim is to change, we have to know and understand the inciting events that trigger the negative response. And we get there through structure. Structure informs and guides our behaviors, especially new behaviors we wish to achieve regularly. This structure, applied over and over again, eventually gets the client to new-found freedom in areas where he didn’t have it before. Freedom from junk food. Freedom from the sedentary lifestyle. Freedom from treating others poorly. Freedom from negativity.
When we’re given too much freedom, the answer is to institute some structure into our lives. Too much freedom and we tend to go off the rails. Too little freedom and we tend to push our boundaries out against structure, seeing how far we can push before it pushes back on us. It is a constant battle between freedom and structure. And yet we require both in order to lead a successful life.