John Maxwell on Leadership

A Quick Checkup on Leading Down


An elderly man sat nervously on the bench in his doctor’s waiting room. A younger fellow came in and took a seat next to him, and couldn’t help but notice the older man’s poor posture. When the nurse called the old man back, the younger man noticed he stooped over, his legs shook, and he seemed on the verge of falling over.

“Man,” the young fellow mused, “that old man is in rough shape.”

A few minutes later, the door to the doctor’s office opened up and the old man emerged. Only now he was standing tall, his legs strong, and a wide smile spread across his face. The young man was amazed, and when the old man strode confidently by, the younger fellow jumped up and grabbed his arm.

“My goodness!” the young man exclaimed. “It’s like a miracle happened! What did that doctor do?”

The old man smiled and said, “He looked me over, analyzed the situation, and gave me a cane.”

I love jokes like that – and not because I’m older. I love the truth that sometimes, we need someone to help us assess our situation and point us towards a solution. We all understand the need to see our doctor for a physical checkup on a regular basis, but have you ever considered visiting a professional for a leadership checkup? It may sound strange, but I want to encourage you to give it a chance.

You see, last week I shared some thoughts with you about leading your peers. Two weeks ago, I sought to help you understand how to lead your leader. All of this has been part of a series revisiting some of the themes from my book The 360° Leader.

Well, today I want to touch on the concept of leading your followers, but instead of teaching you what to do, I want to help you examine what you’re already doing. I’m calling it The Leadership Checkup, and it’s for anyone who leads a team. No matter how big your team is, or whether they’re volunteers or employees, it’s beneficial for you as a leader to take some time and assess how well you’re leading those that follow you. That’s why I have three simple tests to help you gauge the health of your leadership and point you towards opportunities for greater health.

And don’t worry – unlike your annual physical, this won’t take long at all.

Check the Temperature

The easiest part of any doctor’s visit is when the nurse takes your temperature. Pop a digital thermometer into your mouth, and within seconds, you know if your body is fighting an infection or humming along healthily. I find it’s helpful to check the temperature of your team from time to time, and just like in the doctor’s office, it’s easy. Also just like in the doctor’s office, it’s more accurate when you keep your mouth closed. If you want to find out where you are as a leader, then take the temperature of your team. Ask yourself these questions:

·      Are people avoiding me in the office?

·      Is there increased conflict among the team?

·      Are people leaving or disengaging?

If you answer more than one of those in the affirmative, then it’s a sure sign the office is running hot. That means it’s time to get out of your world and into theirs in order to get to know the people on your team better and build relationships. There’s a big difference between prowling the office like a predator, looking for any sign of weakness, and walking the halls like a mentor and friend. You can’t lead people if you can’t read people. It’s just a fact of leadership. Connection and engagement are crucial.

Step on the Scales

There are few things that are as cold and unfeeling as a scale. No matter how you step on it, a scale always gives you back a hard number, and you’re left to pick up the pieces! And yet scales give us a great benchmark for progress – they tell us where we stand and which direction we need to go. From time to time, if you want to assess your weight as a leader, ask yourself the following questions about your team:

·      Do people come to me with problems and solutions?

·      Do people show initiative and engagement?

·      Do people produce at their highest level because of my confidence and encouragement?

If you can’t answer affirmatively to most of those questions, chances are your leadership is lightweight where it really matters. I always encourage putting a “10” on everyone’s head. Seeing the best in people and believing the best of people is the surest way to get the best from people.

Take a Stress Test

Have you ever been to the doctor for a stress test? They are usually recommended when the doctor suspects that you have something wrong with your heart or lungs. Essentially, you hop on a treadmill or a stationary bike and push yourself until the doctor says to stop. It’s not fun, I assure you – especially when you’re out of shape! But stress tests are extremely helpful in determining how well you are functioning at your core.

The same philosophy applies with your team. As a leader, you need to perform a stress test from time to time to make sure the heart of your team is healthy. This means assessing the intangibles of good leadership, those aspects that relate to mission and vision. You should ask yourself the following questions:

·      Are people operating in their strength zones?

·      Do people show that they understand and embrace the vision of the organization?

·      Are people doing work they feel matters?

When your people are working with their heart and soul, your team is able to not only do more, they will do it better. The healthier the heart of a team, the more you can push that team to go farther, faster, and higher.

 

Sometimes, even the best leader needs a quick check up to make sure he or she is leading well. When you take time to assess where your team is – and make necessary adjustments – you increase your influence, and nowhere is your influence more important than with the people you lead. The more you’re willing to invest in them, value them, add value to them, and develop them, the greater your team will be.


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