The story goes that one early summer day in Iowa, a minister traveling down a country road came upon an expansive farm that took his breath away. As he slowed his car, he noticed the farmer on his John Deere combine working in the field. He stopped his car, walked up to the fence and caught the farmer’s attention. The farmer stopped his combine and walked to the fence line and asked, “How can I help you today?” The minister responded, “Good afternoon sir; I was driving by and noticed your beautiful farm. God has certainly blessed you with this place.” The farmer paused, looked around a bit, and replied, “Yes, He certainly has, but you should’ve seen this place when He had it all to Himself.”
There is a human tendency to admire other people’s greener pastures. But we often do so without thinking about the amount of care, effort and time that goes into making such places the way they are. There is nothing magical that happens to make a farm, a yard, or business, a showpiece for others to admire. In all cases, someone with a vision brings together a group of people that want to follow that idea, and help build the place or organization we see today.
As leaders, we have the opportunity to build organizations according to our visions. And before you say to yourself, “That only works for the owner or the CEO,” I would encourage you to think about the amount of influence you have on your work team, whether made of two people or 200. Whatever may be going on at the top of the company, how each of us chooses to show up in our area is 100% up to us.
Several examples are in order. We all can stand in front of our teams and tell them the unvarnished truth. We have the power to reach out to individuals, in small and large ways, whether to say hello in the hallway or to spend extra time helping them through an issue. We all have the power to role model the behaviors that build our team’s confidence and capabilities. We all possess the power to choose how we demonstrate the company’s values. We all have the choice to make a committed stand for something we believe in. We all can decide to have somebody else’s back in the face of adversity.
Increasing Your Effectiveness
None of these actions are likely to come down from the owner or CEO in a memo or directive. All of these behaviors help you, as a leader, increase the amount of credibility and intimacy you have with your team. All of these allow you to think first about your impact on others rather than the consequences to yourself. All of these have the potential to increase your trustworthiness as a person and your effectiveness as a leader.
So, before deciding whether and when to say or do nothing that is not prescribed by the team at the top, think about the powerful impact you can have as a leader who decides to act in the best interests of the team and the company. More often than not, the cost of doing nothing is too high, and you will make the brave and right choice to lead. If you are in the kind of organization that we all want to be part of, the folks at the top will take notice. And if you are not in the type of company that rewards this behavior, it is helpful to know that as well. You then have the freedom and choice to stay and help transform the culture or to do so somewhere else.
Takeaway: Taking action changes you as a person and as a leader, and that goes with you wherever you decide to spend your career.