Thursday 21st March 12:36

Leadership: Building People

When you look at leaders from successful businesses as well as successful societies, those who demonstrate the best leadership skills are those who bring the best out of others. They get people to realise their potential. They make others think they are great. They build the most precious resource of all: the people they lead. Here are 3 ways of building people.

1. Building People by Sowing Good Habits

The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that excellence wasn't something you arrived at after a long period of preparation but a habit. Excellence is the result of doing things in an outstanding way repeatedly. In poorly-led organisations, excellence is rare because there is nobody to set the habit example and encourage regular acts of outstanding performance. In well-led organisations, leaders coach people through regular, unremitting, and positive attention to good habits.

2. Building People by Your Expectations of Them

A team does as well as you and the team think they will. In an experiment at a British school, teachers were given assorted ratings about a new set of intakes, ranging from "excellent prospect" to "unlikely to do well". These ratings were arbitrary and bore no relation to the pupils' true abilities. In tests at the end of the year, there was an astonishing degree of correlation between how pupils performed and the random ratings given to the teachers. This phenomenon is also known as the "Pygmalion effect" from the story of the king of Cyprus who fell in love with an ivory image of a young girl who was then brought to life by the goddess Aphrodite.

3. Building People to Create the Vision

One popular image of the successful leader is the person who, by force of willpower and personality takes over an ailing enterprise and magically turns it around, transforming failure into success, loss into profit and disaster into triumph. The reality is that there are very few examples of such leadership. And yet there are many examples of leaders who come into an enterprise, set themselves and their teams a vision of what is possible and then bit by bit, through hard times and good, build towards the vision.

The one thing that distinguishes leaders from managers is that leaders know that people cannot be measured like a raw material on the balance sheet. Great leaders know that, when called upon, people will respond to the needs of the enterprise. And they do that by building people. 

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