Three keystone principles of leadership have rewarded me well over the years. Upon entering the healthcare industry in 2008, I quickly learned how practicing these principles could transform a struggling operation by leveraging small wins into a pattern of success, thus convincing the team that bigger achievements were within reach. Just as a keystone holds the summit of an arch together, these principles firm-up and lock-in the strength of a fragile team. These keystone principles are:
- Vision: build, share, and get excited about what the team can become.
- Empowerment: create a culture of autonomy where the team can make an immediate impact.
- Perseverance: keep pushing despite the setbacks and turbulent times.
It was once said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Principle 1: The act of delegation and assignment will not in turn build a vision; it is engaging your partners in painting the picture of what you can already see on the canvas before a single brushstroke is applied. You need your partners to know what it will look like, smell like, feel like, sound like. As the leader you will stoke the fires of creativity, sharing your passion for what you are attempting to achieve. Give specifics; share very elaborate details of what you envision things to be. Once the groundwork is established, the real work begins. Take action and engage with your partners to actively flesh out the vision together. With a firm backbone, we now need to give it life by breathing in the energy of an entire team.
Principle 2: When people are empowered to make a difference, they feel ownership in the process and begin to invest themselves into the vision. It is at this crucial point that people begin to become partners, and the vision becomes reality. With empowerment comes the buy-in factor for which people are willing to make sacrifices and give more. In order to understand this, we must consider the opposite reaction. When people are abruptly told to do things, and tasks are assigned with no purpose, or rather with no understandable purpose behind it, they lose the motivation and self-control to realize the vision. Conversely, when the team has a sense of control and authority they feel a purpose and self-control, thus greater ownership.
Throughout my years of leadership experience, nothing has served me more and never have I reaped so much than by instilling trust and empowering my team members to make a difference. This is not always easy, but it must be present to ensure lasting change and it is crucial to the process. It is not always easy allowing someone to do an important task, especially if you think you can do it better. This is where a lot of people fail. They feel they need to go it alone, do it all themselves so it is done to their exacting specifics. Not only will this lead you to frustration, stress and burnout, but it is less effective. A better practice is to determine tasks that are not absolutely essential to you doing them and seek out partners eager and willing to engage in these tasks. Seek guidance, solicit feedback and encourage your team members to own it. Check in, provide encouragement and praise when needed, do not be afraid to share your thoughts, but avoid overbearing. This can be difficult, but with constructive feedback, trust and a clear vision you will be amazed at how willing and capable your partners are of doing a great job.
Principle 3: As the momentum starts to build more people get engaged and excited about the process. A potential pitfall occurs when then zeal and excitement morphs into iterations of the vision and, even though well-intentioned, things begin to stray and dilute your original vision. Have the guts to protect and preserve the integrity of your now blooming vision. Redirect well-intentioned ideas and thoughts into alignment with the core vision. Help the team see that the strength of any vision is in its simplicity. There will always be those who simply do not see what you see, and or do not agree with the direction. Do not let this discourage you, my best ideas have always come from devils advocates pushing and prodding at the kinks in our vision.
As you encounter push back, take time to listen and understand where they might be coming from. Use the feedback to strengthen your message, build your vision, and with precision execute on it. When asked to make a decision on anything vital, my initial thought is always: “Does this get us closer to our vision or our goal?” If by saying yes, it does, then proceed, if not, I would graciously pass. From the simple decisions of one ply or two, to the décor colors and even the vendors that you bring on, every decision can either strengthen your vision or dilute it. Have courage to stand up for not only what your vision is today, but also how it will be in years to come. Even a slight variation now, given time, can morph into something unrecognizable down the road.
Remember that people “buy in” in phases. First responders jump in right away and actively participate in the development of the vision. Then there are the safety seconds who want to believe, but are cautious and reserved until they feel it is a safe endeavor and that your intentions are pure. Lastly you will have the ones that probably were in disbelief initially but over time fall to peer pressure and join in. Make no mistake, some of these hold outs can and often will be your long-term champions for the cause, while others will probably move on.
There is no substitute for hard work and dedication to your goals, but without these keystone principles you could be in for a rough go. Employees seek leadership, direction, passion and fortitude to accomplish what is set out before them. Empowering your employees to be involved in creating and executing a vision can be an intoxicating experience if you can fight through the let down and trials that will always come up in the process. Teaching your partners to focus and follow through with your plans will not only help create loyalty and committed partners, it will also ensure lasting culture and results. Leadership can be very rewarding if executed with the right vision, empowerment of your employees and partners and with the guts to stick through it and stay true to your original goals.