I have come to believe that it is crucial that we as leaders focus our efforts on two areas over all others: 1) on setting the vision for where we are leading our teams or organizations; and 2) on developing the people that we lead within that team or organization. I believe that most of us leaders do an okay job with setting our vision, but when it comes to focusing on developing our people, we can become fearful in fully committing. I think this happens for a couple reasons. First, I believe that we think that if we focus our time and efforts on developing our people, then the work won't get accomplished or not as much work will get done. Second, I believe that we think that if we spend so much time developing our people, they won't get the work done that they need to be successful.
I have tried to lead both ways. I worked in a position where I did not develop my people, did my own work and expected my people to do their job. We got our work done and were somewhat successful for a short period of time, but I could not keep my good people. I learned from that, and when I led in a manner of focused effort to sculpt my people everyday, my team was more successful than I could ever have imagined. And we had fun doing it too.
My son loves the time period surrounding Rome and Greece and so we watched a movie called 300. Some of you may have seen it. It is a story about the ancient Spartans who had the reputation of being the world's most warlike society. In the movie, the Persians wage war against Sparta, famously known as the Battle of Thermopylae. Leonidas, the leader of the Spartans, has a conversation with a messenger from the Persians. The messenger says, "Why, O King, do you have no walls around Sparta?" Leonidas replies, "A wall of men, instead of bricks, is best." This struck me as arrogant at first, but as I watched how the Spartans developed their people, it was amazing how much they put them through different training and challenges to develop their skills, character, teamwork and bravery. They knew that if they put everything into their people, they would lead their people to victory. What I thought was arrogance was actually brutal confidence in knowing that their men were developed into the fiercest warriors of all time.
As I have reflected on these people in history, it seems as though the Spartans believed so much in developing their people that they called each one "a brick in their wall." I thought to myself, "Have I ever thought of the people in my team like this?" Aside from my time in the Marine Corps leading over sixty Marines, I don't think I've thought of my organizational team in this way. How do you think about those you lead, whether it's at work, as a parent or as a husband or wife? Reflect for a minute and ask yourself: "When the last time I set the vision in each of these leadership opportunities? Do I view those I lead as important, as if they were "bricks" in my wall?
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Greece and Israel. We explored the whole country of Israel from the southern most point to the northern most point. There are two significant lakes, often known as seas, in Israel: the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee is fed water out of the northern mountains and "gives up" water in the south through the Jordan River Valley. The Sea of Galilee is known as a "living sea" because it has all kinds of living organisms in it. The Jordan River flows out of the south side of the Sea of Galilee and feeds the Dead Sea. It is known as a "terminal lake," meaning that It doesn't give up any water. It has the highest level of salinity of any body of water in the world and it has no life in it. None at all. This significant difference between the two seas made me reflect on similarities in life and leadership. In life, if we give, then there will be abundant life. But if we don't give, then we will be dead. In leadership, if we give our effort, our experiences, our knowledge and our resources to our people, then our team or organization will be successful. If we don't give to our people, then our team will be dead; it won't produce near as much and thus will not be as successful.
A close friend of mine once said, "Let us not make a name for ourselves, but for those that we lead. Be careful not to be prideful. Fear of anonymity, of being unknown, can take over if we're not careful." I hope that I can lead in a way that makes me unknown and elevates those whom I lead.
I challenge you this next week to begin to change your mindset concerning those that you have the opportunity to lead. I know that some of you are very good at keeping the focus on your people, but it is so easy, when our workload gets high or life gets busy at home, to allow fear to creep in and tell you that you have to do it on your own. Give your people, your wife or husband, or your kids a vision and then sculpt them. I guarantee that 9.9 times out of 10, they will not let you down and will actually take your team, your marriage or your family to a place that you thought was impossible.