Making or Breaking
David Freund, Chief Leadership Officer

Last week I had the amazing opportunity to spend three days with my colleagues at Maxwell Leadership. I went home with pages of notes.  I was mentally exhausted, but personally and professionally energized. I am sure that over the next several weeks many of my takeaways will rise to the surface. The first one I will share is this quote, “Leaders have the power to make or break their people.” As I heard that statement, my heart sank as I recalled things I had seen and comments I have heard from employees in Central New York. What was even more concerning, was how many times I broke a person rather than help them achieve their own personal greatness. We need to remember that every business in the world is a people business. How are we making our people feel?

I have witnessed leaders who think they are doing well actually demoralize their team. They claim to have an open door and then react so poorly that people go away in a far worse mindset than when they came in. Leaders who feel the need to continually remind people of the rules, and rarely if ever celebrate success. If they do happen to have a success to celebrate, they use the opportunity to remind the team of missed opportunities. When you look at year-to-year organizational performance you see the results of this type of leadership. People’s spirits are broken, and the financial metrics reveal this truth.

I have also seen just the opposite. Leaders who truly care about their people, value them for who they are, and set each person on a path to achievement and excellence. These leaders know each team member in a personal way. They know details about their people. Details about their families. Details like hopes, dreams, and beliefs. The people feel the interest that the leader has in them and work hard to maintain this relationship. Their job isn’t just a job, they feel part of something bigger. A cause or a purpose that is worth working toward.

The higher a leader rises into the organization, the narrower their focus becomes. The top leader in an organization has two specific roles, strategic direction, and team development. I am sure you’re not surprised by the strategic direction. It’s clearly the leader’s role to make sure the ship is sailing in the right direction, but what good is direction or mission without the team to take you there? The best leaders spend at least half their time developing high-performing people. They are always looking to find and deploy the best talent possible. As their team members develop and grow, so do their responsibilities and opportunities. When a leader behaves in this way their team members feel valued. When people feel valued, they add value back.

The best way to know how you are doing as a leader is to ask. 360 Assessments are great tools, but you can also just talk with people. Ask yourself if the organization is there to serve you, or are you there to serve others? Do you want more for your people than they want for themselves? If you do, you’re on the right path. When you value your people and add value to them, they will add tremendous value back to the organization. One organization that I am privileged to work with engages me in 360 Assessments throughout the organization. They started with senior leadership and now I am working in many of the plants with site leaders and their teams. One common thread that I am finding is that the best-performing sites have the most engaged leadership.

Please remember, as a leader you are either making or breaking your people. There isn’t a middle ground, and if you’re not adding value to them, someone else will.