Leading people to do their best work
Most people show up to work not only to get a paycheck but to do something that matters. We want to do our best work. And then reality happens…
As a leader, you can help create the conditions in which people can do their best work by ensuring their environment provides the following 3 types of opportunity.
- Autonomy: People need space to do their work in the ways that feel right to them. More important, people need to feel accountable. And they will never have the experience of true accountability while you’re looking over their shoulder. Nobody learns how to ride a bike until their parent lets go. The thrill of “I’m doing it!” only emerges when there’s a risk that “Holy $%^# I might fall!” So as a leader, give people space. It might drive you crazy watching and knowing that they could fall off the bike. But you must put people in this position if you want them to be great. Of course, a good leader is careful not to expose people to catastrophic risk. But ultimately, we cannot do our best work when we feel that somebody else will correct the errors that we miss, or add that bit of polish at the end that makes it great. The experience of autonomy tells us that it matters and galvanizes us to make it great.
- Expertise: Of course, autonomy is only helpful when someone is actually capable of completing the task. Good parents don’t let go of the bike until they feel their child has a pretty good chance of riding successfully. So as a leader, coach people. Get them the training they need. Encourage them to pursue expertise and mastery on the job and by taking advantage of every resource available to them through their networks.
- Humanity: Here’s where too many leaders fall down. Autonomy and expertise are not enough. If you have 10 identical computers and you give them the same program and the same data, and ask them the same question, they will all come up with exactly the same answer. That’s not good enough. Your competitors will all arrive at that answer too. The secret sauce in great work is our humanity. The subtle ways that two professionals who went through the same training will differ from each other. Personality. Soul. The little quirks. The glorious weirdness. The lifetime of different experiences that mold, shape, inspire, and equip us to think, imagine, and create in a way that nobody else on the planet can. That’s where the magic comes from. So as a leader, encourage people to bring their humanity to work. And the best way you can do that is to start by bringing yours.
If you create an environment that provides autonomy, builds expertise, and encourages humanity, you’ll be amazed what becomes possible.