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There Is No Magic Pill For Great Leadership

I've been interviewing a number of executives for my new book, The Magnetic Workplace (Nicholas Brealey, 2013) and so far my findings have been rather interesting. There is no magic pill for great leadership. Yet many organizations believe they can solve problems by handing someone a book (even if it's authored by me) or sending them to a one-day management training program at the local Holiday Inn. The results by themselves are usually disappointing.

Here's how great leadership is created:

Really getting to know your people. You have to be willing to put in the time to really get to know your people so that you can work with them to build on their strengths. Put down your smartphone, walk around your desk, and invite one of your people to lunch. While dining, sit there and really listen to what your employee is saying. Ask them to describe their dreams and aspirations. Then go back to your office and come up with a plan to help this person and others achieve what is important to them.

This is what great leaders do. They are always thinking what they can do to support those who work for them. In turn, these leaders have loyal employees who know that they'd be hard pressed to find a leader who has that much of a personal interest in them as the one they have.

Spending the money required to get the results you hope to achieve. I asked one of the executives that I interviewed what was the biggest myth surrounding the attraction and retention of top talent. He replied by saying that executives think they can do this without spending a lot of money or in some cases, any money. This simply isn't true.

The organization that this executive works for is constantly spending money to boost the performance of their people and it shows. They are leaders in their field. You wouldn't expect the top baseball team in the nation to be at the top of their game without the help of outside experts would you? Coaches are provided for these players who are already the best in the nation. And you know what? Most get better.

Spend the money and help your people achieve their full potential. Or if you prefer, spend nothing and use this money on returning products to unhappy customers or hiring new people to replace the ones who keep leaving.

Don't tell outside experts how to do their jobs. You wouldn't go into your car dealer and tell him to change out the engine because you heard rumblings under the hood, would you? No, you'd ask the mechanic to take a look under the hood and diagnose the problem. You'd then ask what your options were. I get calls weekly from companies asking me to come in and do training. I always ask why. Sometimes the person calling really doesn't know why this is necessary and other times the solution they are provided me as the expert isn't the best or least expensive way to resolve their challenge.

An outside adviser can usually see things more clearly than those who are immersed in the organization. However, they can't do so if you insist on telling them how to do their job.

Creating great leadership in your organization requires a commitment from top to bottom. There is no pill for great leadership. If someone tries to sell you one as a prescription for what ails your organization, get a second opinion.

—Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the president of Matuson Consulting and author of the forthcoming book The Magnetic Workplace (Nicholas Brealey, 2013) and the highly acclaimed book Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, a Washington Post Top-5 Leadership pick. Sign up to receive a complimentary subscription to Roberta's monthly newsletter, Talent Maximizer.

[Image: Flickr user Judit Klein]

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  • Victor

    Of course there is no "magic" pill for leadership, but there are several relatively-effective placebos.

  • Rich

    I think point 2 says it all.  "... the biggest myth surrounding the attraction and retention of top talent [is] ... that executives think they can do this without spending a lot of money or in some cases, any money. This simply isn't true."  So many companies are looking for the mostly non-existent 'perfect candidate' whom, if they can find him/her, believe requires no training/orientation/direction and will know exactly what to do on day 1.  Why organizations have become loathe to spend time or money on employee development, escapes me.  Some of the best companies I've worked for are those that shared their vision and periodic results (good or bad) with the employee and for whom "training and development" was an ongoing endeavor and not limited to the occasional workshop or seminar.    

  • Dansandweiss1

    While I agree with the comments, I can't fail to notice that points 2 and 3 are exactly what a consultant would want to hear..."pay someone from the outside to help you and don't second guess what he has to say."  Hopefully, Ms. Matuson, a consultant, comes by these conclusions honestly.

  • Roberta Matuson

     I do come to these conclusions "honestly." I always ask the question, "If you could do this yourself, then why haven't you?" 

  • Guest

    Because this article is self serving, it appears more as advertising than advice.

  • Patrick Hairiston

    I believe it's an interesting thing to note, company that are very employee centered are always doing very well. EX: Chick-Fil-A, Publix, OG; people are definitely more willing to give excellent service if they know the company will invest in them.

  • Lukej

    Good article.
    Is it in the employees best interest for the leader to 'come up with the plan?' Even though the leader has listen, it will be the leaders solution not the employees..?

  • Eric

    If only school boards and admins took to heart the 2 point made in this article... Should be inherent in education reform, and will only happen if the public puts education in this country as a top priority along with military spending!

  • Sverre Toender

    Excactly - Great article and very very relevant, in times with a recession or even fall in turnover. It is ever the more important to invest, focus, develope (together) and to delegate with "responsibility and empowerment". If the organizations reward and prioritize leadership and the leadership strengths of their leaders they become energized and engaged!! In short use your born talents and know your lackings - Leaders reach their goals with what they do and not who they are!
    One of my favorite quotes; Winston Churchill: "Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm".