Leaders Add Value to Others

To add value to others, one must first value others.

John Maxwell

John Maxwell is one of the modern thought leaders I spoke about above. He is well known to many, and some of you probably have read one or more of his books.

In this day and age, the word “value” is becoming one of those buzz words that people sprinkle into their sentences to make them sound smart. In terms of this quote, though, that’s a disservice to the word.

The current business use of the word value means to give something of worth or utility. Human capital comes to mind. (Another of those words or phrases that are almost meaningless from overuse.)

To Maxwell, leaders want their followers to be so well trained that they can be successful without the leader. Human capital is the sum total of the skills, abilities, and knowledge of an individual, so any training the leader provides adds to that human capital.

If you have ever mentored someone, you know the thrill of watching that person grow and develop. You know that rush of dopamine your brain releases into your system as you see your mentee overcome a challenge they once thought insurmountable. You feel that rush because you are invested in that person; you have provided them with knowledge, wisdom, and guidance.

As a mentor, why do you do that? You don’t invest in people you don’t care about, right? In other words, you don’t invest in people you don’t value.

Would you experience the same rush of dopamine, of achievement, if you did not value the person? Probably not.

But valuing does not simply mean that you like being around someone; there’s more to it than that. When we value a company, we have assessed what the company has to offer. We have run various tests. We know its revenue, its sales, and sales forecasts. We have looked at profits and losses. We know everything about its taxes and its assets.

In Maxwell’s terms, we have done the same with the person, though less clinically. We may enjoy spending time with them, and we may value their company, but we also value their skills and abilities. We value what they offer. We value their potential, even if the person does not recognize that value, that potential, themselves.

Being a leader, you have to know what your followers are capable of and how to bring those capabilities out.

Action Steps

Letting your followers know that you value them and their work means you have to know how to deliver feedback. Feedback, negative and positive, must be delivered as closely to the behavior you want to correct or encourage as possible. Waiting diminishes the impact. Delivering feedback days or even hours after the event distances the follower from the work and does not provide them with the appropriate connection to the event. Time makes the event less real and more nebulous. At the end of the work day, how clearly do you recall the events at the beginning of the work day?

When giving feedback, describe behaviors. Link the behavior to the desired outcome, then ask the follower how they can continue the desired behavior or discontinue the undesirable one. Specificity helps. Simply saying that a follower gave a good presentation is not enough; they need to know what you liked about the presentation.

At the close of a presentation you liked, give the follower specific feedback about the project. Your conversation might look like this:

“Steve, you did a really good job of keeping your team informed about changes during the project. That helps in completing the project on time and gives me confidence in giving you larger projects in the future. What can you do keep turning in good work?”

Describe the positive outcome. Engage the follower’s cognitive abilities by asking for their opinion, which also makes them part of the success.

To provide negative feedback, simply flip the script:

“Steve, when you do not turn you projects in on deadline, it sets back several other projects, and we turn in our product late to the customer. This creates distrust between us and the customer. All of this makes me hesitant to give you other projects. What can we do to help complete you projects on time?”

Again, tie the desired behavior to the feedback. Describe the negative outcome. Engage their cognitive abilities by asking for assistance and making them part of the solution.

Deliver both messages in a neutral tone. Resist the urge to add anything else. Let it be. If the follower wants to argue with the negative feedback, do not escalate and do not engage. End the conversation with something like, “no worries,” or “it’s all right,” and walk away.

Engaging with the follower runs the risk of both of you becoming escalated. You entered the conversation with good intent. Do not allow their reaction to drag you into an argument. Your goal is to change behavior, not to get into an argument.

Your follower’s goal is to reframe conversation. If they argue, they want to distract from their behavior. At best, they are trying to excuse the behavior. They want a reason to keep engaging in the behavior, rather than find a way to change the behavior.

At worst, they are trying to bait you into an argument. At the end of the argument, they can walk away secure in the belief that you are the bad guy.

If the direct report is responsive, there is no harm in expanding, but keep it short. The purpose of this conversation, whether positive or negative feedback, is to talk about behaviors.

Experts agree that workers need more positive feedback than negative feedback. The research varies from a 3:1 ratio to 5:1 and even 6:1. Whichever is the most accurate, it is clear that you should be using the positive feedback model more often than the negative model.

This is an excerpt from my book

Author of “Reflections on Leadership.” Writing about leadership, first responders and sometimes my dogs.