When Barbara Streisand starred in the Broadway play Funny Girl in 1964, she made one song in particular—“People”—famous. The first line of the song is, “People, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” I often think of these words when thinking about people leadership, with a slight change to the lyrics: “Leaders, leaders who need people are the luckiest leaders in the world.” I return to this again and again, because of the deep truth it highlights. People are essential to leadership. True leaders embrace their need of others’ talents, support, and success; that is what allows them to achieve outstanding results, for the business and for themselves.
There are three things leaders can do in order to better relate to the people they work with:
Focus on the P (People), not the I (Individual)
Would Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, or Steve Jobs—some of the world’s greatest, most revered leaders—ever have made the significant impacts they did without the support of other people? Although each of these individuals had strong personal traits that are traditionally seen as key leadership characteristics—vision, courage, initiative—their true strength lay in their understanding that they needed others to help them achieve their lofty goals. They knew that their personal skill sets and talents were only as good as the people that supported or followed them. People often use words like selfless, compassionate, encouraging, innovative, and influential to describe these three leaders—adjectives that describe leaders whose focus was on others, not on their personal egos and agendas.
Lead People—Don’t Control or Leave Them On Their Own
When people are left on their own with no direction, they tend to do only what falls within their comfort zone. You can’t just hire good people and assume that they will do a good job; people can only perform to the level of what they know. That is where leadership comes in. People need a leader to establish direction, expectations, and goals, to provide support when issues and roadblocks arise, to offer consistent feedback on their job performance, to hold them accountable for doing great things, to celebrate their accomplishments, and to make them feel needed and important. Without this direction and leadership, people will continue to operate within the realm in which they are comfortable, which is usually a much smaller space than they are capable of inhabiting.
Continuously Improve Your People Skills
While I do believe the focus of leadership is more about people than leaders themselves, there is one area that leaders must master at an individual level, and that is their people skills. After all, if you’re going to work with and influence people, you need to have an understanding of how best to do so. And the only way to improve people skills is first by learning and second by applying people leadership techniques. Leadership is not learned in a training class or workshop; it is on a daily basis. It’s your job to constantly examine what works and what does not while working with your team, and then improving upon the areas that need your attention.
You may have become a leader because of your individual attributes, but if you want to become a great leader, you’ll need to check your ego at the door. Ultimately, without a focus on people, there is no true leadership. So turn your focus on the people around you, and see what blossoms.
Reflection Question: What do you think is important about people and leadership?Share your answer in the comments section below.
Call for input: If you have a question about leading, supervising or managing people, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and the answer to your question may be featured in one of my weekly blog posts or weekly People Leadership Insights.