I am a total sucker for political movies.

One of my favorites is a lesser-known film from about 25 years ago entitled Dave. Kevin Kline stars as Dave Kovic, the owner of a temp agency who makes money on the side as an impersonator of President Bill Mitchell.

When President Mitchell has a stroke while hooking up with a woman (not his wife) and falls into a coma, Dave is co-opted into a national ruse and begins imitating the president for real.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie includes a speech Dave gives where he announces a comprehensive jobs plan. He talks about the dignity and respect a person feels when they finally get a job. And what it means to have a job which makes you feel like what you did mattered in a given day.

This vision of work is one I think every leader must embrace.

Great Leadership Matters

It’s kind of insane to drill the job of a leader down to one thing. If there is one job of a leader, it is to add value and serve those on their teams. In some organizations, though, leaders punt this responsibility to other departments.

A robust HR team can convince a leader that their most important work as a leader – creating an environment where people can thrive in their jobs – is someone else’s responsibility. Let’s be clear – I’m not saying a leader can guarantee everyone will thrive because they are not in control of that. However, in some places, no one can thrive because the environment makes it impossible at worst or just insanely difficult.

4 Things Leaders Can Do to Help Their People Thrive

So, how does a leader create an environment where people can thrive?

1. Fight for Clarity

In his best-selling book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else, Patrick Lencioni describes the four disciplines of healthy teams.

Fighting for clarity is a battle worth showing up for every day.

Build a cohesive leadership team. Create clarity. Over-communicate clarity. Reinforce clarity. I’m sensing a theme here.

According to Lencioni, politics, sideways-energy, passive-aggressive conflict, apathy and many more symptoms of an unhealthy culture can be linked to a lack of clarity and a dysfunctional leadership team.

Everyone in the organization is looking to the leader(s) for clarity. What matters most? Why do we exist? What’s important now?

Fighting for clarity is a battle worth showing up for every day.

2. Exterminate Politics

It’s a big challenge for people to meet and exceed their job requirements. In a rapidly changing world with higher expectations, more competition and less margin for error, everyone feels the pinch. Stress and pressure are assumed and expected.

But, in an environment like this, adding the need to posture and play political games on a daily basis feels like a no-win scenario.

If leaders can fight for clarity, the need for politics goes down.

While we cannot always treat everyone the same, we can be honest, transparent, and clear in what we’re doing. Trust begins with the leader going first.

Lencioni notes, “If the team leader is reluctant to acknowledge his or her mistakes or fails to admit to a weakness that is evident to everyone else, there is little hope that other members of the team are going to take that step themselves.”

Politics begins to recede with leaders who tell the truth, even when it hurts.

3. Cultivate a Servant Culture

In the business sector, Chick-Fil-A, Ritz-Carlton, Southwest Airlines, and Zappos have all been recognized for the great lengths they go to serve their customers.

But it’s not enough to serve your customers. Servant cultures include serving those you lead within the organization.

Take Frank Blake as an example of this. Blake called himself the “accidental CEO” when he was tapped to lead the struggling Home Depot.

He transformed Home Depot by introducing what he called the inverted pyramid.
“The right way to look at this is me on the bottom,” he said. “My job here is to clear away the things that get in your way.”

Blake spent seven years as CEO of Home Depot. On a regular basis, he left his office and walked the floor of stores to learn about the challenges team members were facing. His hunger to serve them and make their experience better communicated more than a video memo or even a small raise would.

Who doesn’t want to come to work when that’s the culture from the top down? (Or in Blake’s words, from the bottom up).

4. Honor Others

Great Leadership MattersIn the movie I mentioned at the top, Dave Kovic has a vision for work which dignifies and honors people in a life-giving way. Surely, he knows work is far from perfect, and leadership is challenging and painful. But, he sees a way to honor everyone as people; each one in a different role but with the same value. I’ve heard many leaders state that “respect is earned, but honor is given.” We can honor even those we don’t like, respect or admire. Honor isn’t only reserved for those with big titles and corner offices.

As leaders, we must do our best to honor others, to treat them as we would want to be treated. People are not a commodity; they’re living, breathing souls. They hold immense value. As the old saying goes, “Use things, not people.”

Where does HR fit into this?

I’ve loved several of the HR specialists I’ve worked with and gotten to know over the years. They love their work and their giftedness astounds me. In a healthy organization, with leadership who desires to serve their people, they execute and compliment the vision and work of the leadership team. They do the daily work which leads to awards like “Best Place to Work.”

In the best scenario, HR monitors and ensures the thriving experience of every team member. Yet, employee satisfaction and retention cannot be the concern of someone else and off the leader’s radar if they want their organization to succeed.

The leader cannot do it all, but if they don’t do this at all, nothing else will make much difference.

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Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash
Having an effective HR team can convince a leader that their most important work - creating an environment where people can thrive - is someone else's responsibility. Ultimately though, great leadership matters. Cultivating these four leadership habits will ensure a team thrives.