In 2004, Stephen Covey famously put people at the center of his definition of leadership when he wrote, in The 8th Habit:
“Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.”
Covey shifted the focus from traditional characteristics of leadership – getting extraordinary results, having long-ranging vision, prevailing with clarity over context, and so on. While all of these attributes continue to be part of the leader’s toolkit, more than ever the ability to understand and develop one’s people is a vital part of the job – and requires a special set of skills.
Yet in the daily rush of pushing for extraordinary results, developing strategy and delivering exceptional service to clients and stakeholders, seeing and developing the worth and potential in associates can be difficult to keep sight of.
Moreover, ‘worth and potential’ is a boundless and highly personal topic – how can we efficiently and effectively get the connection and clarity required to see our co-workers in the full breadth of who they are and who they can become?
In my work I have found three queries that help to gain this deeper understanding:
- What are their values? Values indicate what is most important to someone and point to the beliefs that guide their actions and decisions. Each individual value is the tip of an iceberg that extends deep into childhood, environment and defining life experiences.
- What are the defining experiences of their life story? A life story allows us to understand how values and beliefs were shaped and where they come from. Knowing the relevant defining experiences in someone’s life, both successes and challenges, gives you the opportunity to fully resonate with and understand what is important to someone, as well as to help point out blind spots and unseen possibilities.
- What are their deepest aspirations? Sometimes all we know about an associate is the next positions they are working towards – but knowing the full dimensions of their most dearly held aspirations gives you much more information and context, and also allows you to tap into deeper sources of motivation.
Integrating these three steps into your mentoring conversations will increase your ability to bring out the best in your people – but that is only part of the story.
Here is the real benefit of going this extra mile: as you continue to revisit your associates’ values, story and aspirations, you cannot help but develop a profound compassion and understanding for each unique individual, and therein lies the heart and soul of great leadership.
Because the key to “communicating to people their worth and potential” is developing within yourself your own genuine and heartfelt belief in their potential.
Your genuine belief is the fuel that will help your people continue to evolve despite their own doubts and fears. And it will also fuel you – because there is nothing more rewarding than supporting someone to prevail over their own doubts and step closer to their full potential.