(Part two in a three-part series)
Bill Crawford was a dormitory janitor at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the 1970s. He took pride in his job, and the dorm was always spotless. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons most of the cadets barely noticed him.
James Moschgat was one of those cadets who barely noticed Bill. Then one day while studying World War II history, a story grabbed his attention. U.S. Army Private William Crawford was awarded the Medal of Honor “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Altavilla, Italy, 13 September 1943.” On his own initiative Private Crawford single-handedly attacked multiple enemy positions in the face of intense machine gun fire, enabling his company’s advance.
James found Bill and showed him the story, asking if that was him. Bill quietly responded that it was. Word got out quickly, and the cadets in James’s squadron began to see Bill in a completely different light. He was a humble hero in their midst, and his presence garnered a whole new level of respect. The same cadets who once passed Bill in the hallway with barely a glance, now greeted him with a heartfelt, “Good morning, Mr. Crawford.”
Many years later in his Air Force career, Colonel James Moschgat shared this story along with the leadership lessons he learned from it. Among them are: be cautious of labels, everyone deserves respect, courtesy makes a difference, take time to know your people, and leaders should be humble. In other words, never take people for granted.
I’m sometimes asked, “What’s the difference between management and leadership?” My simple answer is that management is process-centric, and leadership is people-centric. That’s why the second essential focus area in The Leadership Triad that I believe is critical for leading a consistently high-performing team, is every organization’s most important and valuable asset – your people. And in my experience, properly focusing on your people requires leaders to do three things: respect your people, know your people, and take care of your people.
Respect Your People
Earning your people’s respect starts with respecting your people. The essence of respecting your people is having genuine compassion and concern for their welfare. Treat everyone on your team with fairness, dignity, and respect – just like you want to be treated.
One of the most practical ways to show that you respect your people is to make sure they know they are an important and valued member of your team. Two of the most powerful words in the English language are, “thank you.” Say them every chance you get.
Know Your People
Information technology makes it easier to communicate more broadly with people today than ever. But it also makes it more challenging to communicate with meaningful depth. It’s difficult to read emotions through the screen of a computer or cell phone. It’s also hard to compete with the constant flow of information that individuals are constantly connected to. Knowing your people in today’s environment requires intentional effort.
To know your people better, consistently find opportunities to ask questions. Three of my favorites are: “What do you love most about your job?” “What are your goals?” And, “What is your biggest challenge?” Schedule regular conversations with members of your team so you can learn more about their aspirations and challenges.
Take Care of Your People
Taking care of your people centers on an actionable commitment to look out for their welfare. It’s about making sure they can trust that you have their back, and being an approachable mentor so they feel comfortable discussing their problems with you because they know you have their best interests at heart.
A practical way to take care of your people is to listen carefully to their answers to your question, “What is your biggest challenge?” and then do something to help them overcome it. Generating buy-in and respect from your people begins when they know how much you care about their problems.
Focusing on your people is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do as a leader. As James Moschgat learned, it requires humility so you don’t take anyone for granted, especially the heroes in our midst who impeccably but quietly do their jobs. It demands selflessness and self-sacrifice. It means putting others’ interests ahead of your own. None of that is easy.
But if you focus on respecting your people by treating them how you want to be treated, you will in turn earn their respect. If you focus on knowing your people by learning about their challenges and helping them through, they will know how much you care. And if you focus on taking care of your people so they know you care about their welfare, they will take care of you by doing whatever it takes to accomplish your mission.
Stay tuned for part three – “Mission” – in this three-part series on The Leadership Triad. To dive deeper on the subject of how to focus on your people, check out chapter 2 in my new book, The Substance of Leadership: A Practical Framework for Effectively Leading a High-Performing Team, available September 21st on Amazon. In the meantime, if you want to find out if you are leading your team to consistently perform at a high level, take my five-minute Performance Pressure Test.