There have been instances in my career when I have been led perfectly and poorly. But when I think back on the memorable experiences when I was led successfully, it came down to these three things.
The leader challenged me.
The leader empowered me.
The leader rewarded me.
The Keys to Memorable Leadership
Many years ago, in the marketing department where I was working, I wanted to improve a project filing system. The filing system, if you could call it a “system,” was a mess. If you wanted to see how the team completed a particular project, you’d have to go through stacks of old papers and digital files. Record-keeping was non-existent. I brought this up with my manager by presenting the problem, a few possible solutions I could implement, and a timeline I needed to get it done.
My manager obliged, and my challenge was on.
It is vital to challenge others and allow others to challenge themselves constantly. The thing about issuing challenges is that it does one important thing in every relationship. It shows that you have trust in that person’s abilities.
There’s nothing better than knowing a leader trusts you. Because when we have that trust, the last thing we want to do is let them down. We do everything we can to maintain that trust. And we do everything we can to showcase our best work.
While I trudged through the project, I felt the freedom to navigate the project as I saw fit. This is not to say there was a lack of guidance. I felt trusted and empowered to make my own decisions.
Even though the result may not be perfect, empowering your team members, children or partner to pave their own path will always be a good thing. Their setbacks will be theirs, and they can own their triumphs. They learn how to excel on their own, and they learn when to ask questions and seek input.
Of course, I probably would not be recalling this specific moment in my career if things didn’t turn out well. As you may have guessed, I completed the project, and it was a success. My team had an updated project filing system. It included job numbers, folders to contain all elements of the project and an online database to reference when we needed to look back at past work.
Getting the opportunity to improve a process, see it implemented, and watch my colleagues flourish was rewarding. But my manager took things a step further and nominated me for an employee award. That might have been an over-the-top level of rewarding — a Starbucks gift card would have been sufficient — but it felt good.
As much as people will say they don’t need validation, they really do need validation. When I do something for someone, acknowledgment is never a bad thing. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an employee award or coffee, at times a simple thank you is enough.
Challenge, Empower, and Reward
An example of this is how dogs are conditioned to display good behavior. Throw a ball, they bring it back, give them a treat. The continuous cycle of the action, result and reward turns into positive behavior. Yes, the dog wants the treat, but he also wants you to be satisfied with his job well done.
Challenge, empower and reward. It’s really that simple.
The funny thing is, many people struggle with the responsibility of leadership because they feel they need to be constantly overseeing and managing. The misconception about leadership is that it’s about giving out instructions, task lists and marching orders.
But the best leaders are those who allow people to lead themselves. This type of leadership can result in a person being led to create the best version of themselves. And that is what will always be the sustaining memory of your contribution to a person’s life.