Leading Gently

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Michelangelo’s David. I challenged leaders and managers to look for ways to reveal and let flourish the aptitudes and passions of the people they work with: to chip away the marble that prevents them from being their best. It is a delicate process. I think the words of Philip Crosby apply here, “You have to lead people gently toward what they already know is right.”

So how do we do that? How do we take a person and help them realize their full potential? This is not about “changing” people, it is revealing what is already inside. Not every chunk of stone can be a David. So we must choose our stones carefully, and then find the treasure hidden inside. Everything starts with that first decision…choosing the stone. In this analogy, that means hiring the right people. So how do you choose?

Before you can choose, you must have clarity. You need to know what you are looking for and you need to know what your plans are. More than that, you need to be able to objectively describe your values, your vision and your mission. It is important to stress that I am not talking about what you want them to be, but rather, what they really are. You might be surprised to learn that they aren’t what you think they are. Once you have that clarity, then you can begin the selection process. Here, we need to be straightforward with the candidates to make sure they understand what they are getting into. Their value system and yours must fit well together, and they should have some passion for the company’s mission. If you can align at least those two things, then you are well on your way to a good hire. A final crucial element is that they must have the competencies to do the job. You can teach skills, but not competence.

With the David, three renowned sculptors tried but were unable to reveal the inner beauty. Not everyone can bring out the best in a person. There must be mutual respect, a willingness to learn, and the ability to teach. This again, goes back to the hiring process. A chunk of stone, or a warm body, may just ultimately waste everyone’s time. It is crucial that when the decision is made to hire, it is with open eyes from both sides.

Now that you have the right person in the position, you can start to gently sculpt them. They already know the right thing to do, because they share your values and are passionate about your mission. All you have to do is develop their skills and free them from the confines of their limited experience. You set clear expectations and coach them. You provide them with the opportunity to grow, gain confidence, and be the best they can be. Once the statue is free, you have to let it be seen. Don’t cover your people with micromanagement, but trust in your mentorship, in their skills and their passion.

People who care about what they do don’t mind accountability, but don’t confuse micromanagement with accountability.

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