The key to leadership – not to be found in management books
It’s only now- decades later- that I realise my father had mastered the most powerful habit an effective leader can have. No management book I’ve read contains this insight. I share it now hoping it is as immensely valuable to you as it has been, and is, to me.
First, a story. I was writing Wrestling Possums posts on a flight to Shanghai recently. I put on the headphones, started listening to Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, and thought of my Dad. It was his favourite piece.
My memory of him, while blurred, is underpinned by a warm feeling. I remember Dad ‘being around’ when I was growing up.
Most important, of being there when I needed him most. This is how he did it, and here’s how you can bring this critical habit to play in leading teams and clients.
I wouldn’t ask my Dad for help. He just showed up. A phone call. Or he’d pick me up from school unexpectedly, or appear at my bedroom door while I was doing homework, ‘just for a chat.’ He’d ask me to join him for a walk. Or I’d find his arm slipping around my shoulder just when I needed a hug.
And that’s the point. He’d show up “just when I needed….”
The Key To Leadership: Knowing When To Show Up
My father knew the secret to keeping me on track and in top gear. With clients and with your teams, knowing when to ‘show up’ is critical to keeping people, the work and relationships on track. Here’s how to get it right.
Three ways to know when to show up
1. Trust Your Instincts: whenever I find myself wondering, “How’s George going?’ “Been a while since…” “Why do I have a sense of uneasiness when I see that client logo?” “Why have I got butterflies in my stomach?” “I wonder what’s happening on…?” When you get that nagging feeling, feel something in your waters…then, ‘show up.’ Put an arm around a colleague (figuratively), or indeed a client. Go smell the air with your teams. Check in. Ask questions. Test the temperature. Buy someone a coffee. Have a breakfast.
2. Remind Yourself: I have a cue in my office. .. a paperclip container with the logo of my first ever client, Bridgestone Tyres. Whenever I look at it, I’m reminded to ask myself: ‘Time To Show Up?’ Seriously. I think about the people I am responsible for and my clients. As I think of each, if I get a nagging feeling, it’s time to show up. Find a cue. Use it to check in regularly with your instincts.
3. Listen With Your Eyes: always be on the alert for small signals. People not looking you in the eye. Phone calls not returned. Someone gone a bit ‘quiet.’ Small errors creeping in. A deadline missed. You hear in passing of a client complaint. More than one high potential staff member leaves part of the business. Hmmm. What’s cooking? Listen. Like thieves. And then check in- check it out.
I don’t know how my Dad did it. He just knew. Or maybe he trusted his instincts, reminded himself regularly whether it was time to, or listened with his eyes. Either way, thanks Dad for showing up when I needed you to. It helped keep me on the right path.