“Lucy, you can’t just say, ‘no-thank-you bite.’ You have to actually take a bite first.”
“But I don’t like it.”
“How do you know you don’t like it? You haven’t taken a no-thank-you bite yet.”
Parenting three kids five and under, my wife and I spend a lot of time providing for needs, managing wants, and trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to explain the difference between the two. Whether its eating vegetables, going to bed on time, or cleaning up after themselves, I’m constantly trying to explain to my kids that while I love to give them what they want, my job is to give them what they need.
It’s no different with the grown-ups we lead. There are certain things our followers need and it’s our responsibility to provide them—regardless of whether they want them or not. Here are five examples off the top of my head:
1. The Truth. Sometimes the truth hurts, but that’s no reason to withhold it from someone—especially if they could grow from it. I’ve encountered too many adults who have been misled by well-meaning parents, teachers, coaches, and bosses who didn’t have the guts to tell them the truth. Watch any American Idol audition show; you’ll see dozens of examples of this.
2. Attention. My brother, who was two years ahead of me at West Point, gave me this advice just before I entered Beast Barracks: Be outstanding—but don’t stand out! Too many experiences with critical, hovering, or micromanaging bosses have left us fearful of a leader’s attention. Don’t let that deter you. What you pay attention to communicates (louder than words) what—and whom—you care about.
3. Correction. No one likes to be told they’re wrong. You know what they dislike even more? Getting near the end of a project—or what they think is the end—and being told that because no one corrected their errors near the beginning, they are now hundreds of miles off course. The tough part as a leader is that when you correct someone, they rarely see the potential frustration you helped them avoid.
4. Challenging Work. Everyone has some measure of innate ambition. No child says they want to grow up to be a deadbeat. No matter how lazy a person may seem, if you give them tough, meaningful work along with the tools needed to succeed, they’ll rise to the task—and come out the other side with more pride, confidence, and determination.
5. Accountability. Every year, people get with their leaders to define their goals. All too often those lofty, inspirational aims remain buried in a folder until their annual review. In the meantime the tyranny of the everyday slowly saps the meaning out of their work. Help your people succeed by simple holding them accountable to what they’ve agreed to accomplish.
What else do you think followers need that they don’t necessarily want?