Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Leadership lessons learned from my father-in-law

Used with permission: CC (Wim Mulder)

My wife's father has history. No, I don't mean he has a history. I mean that he's one of those people who's far more interesting than the average.

You can't live someone else's life, of course, but maybe you can hope to embody and actualize some of the great characteristics of people you admire. Here are a few from him:

  • Make plans. I've never seen him undertake something without notes. I get a secret, giddy euphoria when I see him with a pen and a blank sheet of paper, because I know that something amazing is about to be brought into existence. I love seeing an idea become a plan, a plan become an action, actions become results, and positive results become success. He seems to have a secret for making that machine run.

  • Involve people. I honestly don't know if he's an extrovert. I think perhaps not. But he is a leader. He doesn't take the notes on that formerly blank sheet of paper and do all the work himself. He builds a team. A team gets to enjoy each other's company, to solve problems collectively from enough different perspectives that disaster can be averted quickly, and to celebrate victories together.

  • Give affirmations liberally. People achieve beyond their own awareness of their capabilities when you inform them that they can. I've never seen anyone on a team with him (myself included) who didn't come out a better person on the other side when the project was over. He doesn't assign work to break you down. He manages tasks to make you shine. And he lets you know when you do. (I finally realized that he knew you would anyway.)

I could list a thousand interesting facts about him, but taken individually, each one wouldn't be very interesting. Put them together, though, and you get a story.

Maybe that's what we all are: a story that's a collection of all the interesting things about us. By themselves, each of the facts are pretty boring. But add them together and the sum is fascinating, a person, pulsing and living, thinking, dreaming and growing, with interrelating ideas and actions that form some sort of identity.

Connect ideas to yourself and you'll find that you've become who you are. Now how the heck did that happen?

But while you're at it, invest in people. Watch the investment increase. It's an amazing thing to see a person blossom into their potential. Nothing else matters, really.

What quality of leadership have you admired in someone else?