4 Magic Words of Leadership

Many of you were taught incorrectly. You were taught that the boss’s only job was to make and enforce rules. You were taught that the principal of your grade school existed to punish students who misbehaved. You were taught that your dad’s (or mom’s) chief job as “the boss” was to ensure you didn’t run in the house. You were taught that your supervisor’s key job was to find your mistakes and then yell at you to fix them. You were taught that your coach’s primary job was to keep you humble by pointing out every small deficiency in your game.

Leaders are called upon to set direction, communicate clear expectations, provide feedback, hold their team accountable, develop strategy, cast vision, secure funding, and deploy tactical plans. These are the transactional pieces of leadership. There are also relational aspects of leadership such as demonstrating empathy, developing others, nurturing the culture, connecting with stakeholder groups, and motivating the team. Transactional and relational components of leadership are both important. It’s a “BOTH AND” not an “EITHER OR.” Yet many of us, myself including, were impacted by people in positions of leadership (though not “true” leaders) who acted as if their ONLY role was to find that which didn’t conform to the rules or support the goals and then stamp it out. The stamping out process could include verbal abuse, public humiliation, physical punishment, emotional manipulation, or other inappropriate responses. Yes, there are, unfortunately, many dysfunctional people in positions of power, authority, and leadership.

I wish these folks had learned, believed in, and applied the “4 Magic Words of Leadership.” Some of you may already know them. You may not even know that you know them. But your actions and words give you away. You’re a magician but you don’t even know it. Others of you are not yet magicians. You don’t know how to practice leadership magic. But soon you will. Hang on for a few paragraphs while I tell a story. I am, after all, in the end, a storyteller.

Today I went to see my friendly neighborhood pulmonologist. He was conducting a checkup following a recent bout I had with pneumonia that hospitalized me for a few days. I was also scheduled to have a computed tomography scan (commonly known as a CT or CAT scan) of my chest to make sure everything was clear. First the scan, then a visit to the pulmonologist. Simple enough.

Except that the doctor’s office was on the 8th floor of a large medical complex that wasn’t laid out or marked clearly. There were several buildings but the building numbers weren’t displayed. Additionally, each building was further subdivided. I knew my building number was 1500 and I knew my section was “B” but I couldn’t decipher the medical campus layout code. It remained a secret.

I was doubling back and searching the buildings for numbers or sections when a gentleman approached. He could clearly see I was “lost.” In fact, at the moment he came up to me, I was staring through a piece of stonework trying to get my bearings and getting ready to call the pulmonologist’s office for directions. He said, “Hello, how can I help?” At first I was caught a bit by surprise. But quickly gathered my thoughts and asked him the whereabouts of building 1500, section B. He was glad to help and pointed me in the right direction. I thanked him and hurried across the street and into a non-descript building while he continued to his car.

As I rode up the elevator to the 8th floor, I thought about this leader. This servant. This magician. Two things stood out. First, he had magic. And second, he knew when to use it. He was aware of his surroundings and saw someone who needed help, assistance, guidance and aid. He could tell I was in trouble. Okay, it wasn’t a major crisis, but I was in need of help. And he sought to remove my obstacle that could only be identified (and then solved) by the “4 Magic Words of Leadership” – How Can I Help.

The magic is simple and it’s there for everyone. But you have to apply it sincerely and you have to follow-through. Trust me. Everyone needs and can benefit from your leadership magic. Your husband. Your daughter. Your friend. Your pastor. Your boss. Your son. Your wife. Your neighbor. Strangers need magic. Kids need magic. Elderly folks need magic. Every tribe, race, ethnicity, and gender needs magic. Farmers need it. Politicians need it. Kids in the ghettos need it. Executives need it. Inmates need it.

In fact, everyone you talk with today needs your magic. They may not even know they need it. But by asking “how can I help” you’ve accomplished several things, each one magical. You’ve “seen” the other person. You know they exist. You’ve spoken to them. You’ve offered to listen to their problem. And you’ve committed yourself to rolling up your sleeves to help. A wise man once taught that words without actions are hollow and meaningless. The reverse is true as well. Words coupled with actions are powerful and life-changing.

Great leaders are servants. They master the transactional as well as the relational aspects of leadership but at their core, they’re servants. Humble, helpful and carrying around some magic.

Hope you have a great week. Look for opportunities to apply some magic at home, at work, on the ball field and in your neighborhood. See others, recognize their humanity, offer your service and apply your magic.

is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.

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