Early on in my leadership journey, as a young, type A, dominant achiever, I was afforded the opportunity to manage my very first employee. I was excited about the possibilities, about how my efforts, ideas, and productivity would be mulitiplied by having additional hands and hours at my disposal. It didn’t take long before I found myself exasperated because my new wonderful employee wasn’t doing things exactly the way I thought she should or the way I had instructed her.
My new employee wasn’t meeting my expectations, so in my frustration I went to my boss, the VP and a mentor in my life, for counsel. Rather than nod in agreement and share my frustration, he spoke one of the most impactful (and at the time, infuriating) utterances I’ve ever heard.
He said, “Jenni, you’re working with people not widgets. If you want things to be perfect and go exactly your way, you’re in the wrong business. If you want to work with widgets, go down to the factory. If you want to work with people, you’re going to have to learn to love them in order to lead them.”
I wasn’t particularly fond of his feedback. I had walked into his office convinced my employee was the problem, but my boss was quick to point out that it wasn’t my employee—it was me. The problem lay with my perspective. I was not seeing something I needed to see. I was expecting leadership to be simple and streamlined, to align with my neat and tidy ideals. I was envisioning an assembly line of “people-widgets” carrying out my every instruction without applying their thoughts, ideas, gifts, or experiences. I wanted control, not leadership. That early lesson was a defining moment in my leadership life.
In my pomp and arrogance I was making leadership about me. That experience was my first memorable introduction to the idea that leadership is a very complex issue. It’s not an assembly line of widgets responding to my every beck and call. It’s not clearly definable and controllable outcomes. Its not well-conceived plans that never fail. It’s not circumstances that I can always control. Leadership is messy, murky, complicated, and rarely black-and- white.
Fast forward a couple of decades, add a couple hundred more employees and many poor leadership moments on my part and I find myself more committed than ever to the importance of the influence leaders have on the lives of those we lead.
Leadership shapes human lives, and because of that, it is sacred work.
We have the unbelievable privilege and responsibility to impact and shape the lives of those we lead. We have the ability to see their giftedness and create pathways to develop it. We have strategic influence to open doors and make introductions.
But time and time again, I see leaders become disenchanted with their staff. I’ve done it myself. We focus on their weaknesses more than their strengths. We see the mistakes rather than the wins. We constantly critique rather than encourage.
I frequently work with leaders who feel like they need to make staff changes or do a major overhaul to the organizational chart. They are on the hunt to hire that elusive hero who will make all their problems go away. While staff changes and reorganizations may sometimes be necessary, I challenge them to pause. Before you look for the next great rock star who will come in and solve all your problems, step back and take a look around.
What is your staff doing well?
What problems are you not having to solve because they are already solving them?
What talents are not being used? Who has more capacity?
Who has interest in developing a new idea or product? What if you released them to try it?
Who has God placed around you and what talent are you leaving untapped?
How could you unleash that talent for the unique good of your organization?
Here’s the deal… too often we’re eager to rush ahead and we neglect to notice that some of our best assets are sitting right beside us. You don’t need that go-getter over at XYZ competitor. Just because he may be a rock star there is no guarantee he’ll be a rock star for you. Your job is to steward the talent you have. You have the chance to create a culture in which your team members gifts’ are fostered and freed, where the talent in your midst is appreciated and cultivated.
And no, that doesn’t mean that you never have to let a staff person go (a conversation for another day). Those occasions occur. But before you let them, be sure that you have done your due diligence to SEE what’s in front of you and steward it well, for the good of your employees and the good of your organization.
People will come and go. But look for (and polish) your hidden gems. Don’t allow “a prophet to be without honor in his own country”.
See the talent in your midst. Call it out and put to the great good of your organization!
Keep leading well!
Jenni Catron and The 4Sight Group
Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach who consults churches and non-profits to help them lead from their extraordinary best. She speaks at conferences and churches nationwide, seeking to help others develop their leadership gifts and lead confidently. As Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group, she consults with individuals and teams on leadership and organizational health.
Jenni is the author of several books, including Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence and The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.