By Elaine Jones, Market Intelligence Lead at Microsoft and Friend of Simple Intentions
Recently, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes on leadership, from Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” I had asked my toddler daughter to fetch me a book from the top of the counter one evening. She happily skipped to the counter to get it, only to be an inch or two too short to reach it. In between suggesting trying a step stool and thinking I should just do it myself, it struck me that Eisenhower may be only half right.
We all encounter situations where the lack of motivation for change seems senseless. We assume positive intent, and are sometimes even certain that motivation is plentiful. Yet nothing happens. I call these situations the “Eisenhower Trap”, just because someone else wants to do something you want done, doesn’t mean something gets done. These situations look like this:
- A close partner with the same vested interest in success consistently pushes back on every proposal, clearly emotional about the disagreement
- A motivated employee is unable to stretch themselves to a higher level of performance at work
- That person on the team who somehow always manages to find a fault with the plan, or casts a negative light on a piece of good news
- A colleague stuck in a job they hate and aren’t doing well in, but persists on the job day after day
- When I need to make a difficult decision, and speak to everyone I know, hoping someone will give me the encouragement to avoid a difficult choice
I’ve realized that each of these situations represent an Unlock or Unblock moment. In each of these situations, a critical Unlock or Unblock action is needed to be able to progress the situation. Recognizing which of these actions is better suited for the situation goes something like this for me:
– Seeks permission or approval
– Experiences fear or anxiety of failure
– Feels inadequate about qualifications or knowledge
– Seeks authority or empowerment
– Experiences internal or external conflict
– Meets disapproval of their opinions or thoughts
To Unlock the situation, I focus on easing the fear and doubt by offering encouragement and support. I praise the effort instead of the outcome, and marvel at how amazing it is and feels to take the first step, to be brave and to try something new for the first time. I offer safety nets, yet quite frequently find that I do not intercede publicly on their behalf, instead, I provide pointers and feedback privately to turn good into greatness. This belief in the intrinsic abilities of the individual to accomplish greatness may feel like a loan, a leap of faith, but I am seldom disappointed.
Situations where someone needs to be Unblocked feel inherently different. My trust in their abilities feels less like a loan and more like a payment overdue. I am publicly standing with someone in this situation, and lend my authority and opinion openly in support of the person I intend to Unblock. I reward and praise their accomplishment, deliberately looking for ways in which their ideas, even negatively, improve a project, remove risk, and give credit to the good of their intentions. Once whatever is holding them back is Unblocked, they take off like a launched rocket, releasing the pent-up passion and ideas that were waiting to be expressed.
In some sense, Eisenhower’s quote could be flipped around: “Because they want to do it, Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done.” Trust that someone else wants to do what you want done. Now, Unlock or Unblock their way there.