Let me describe one of the most important leadership truths I know. It is that a good leader inspires his or her people by “framing” them, by describing them and even nicknaming them so as to elevate them and help them see themselves in higher terms.
My man Winston Churchill did this. He spoke of the English people as being “lionlike.” He would nickname a general so people saw that man in uniform in the highest possible terms. He would speak of the people in a particular village as being “the steely heart of the nation” or “possessed of an ancient warrior spirit.” This all made waitresses in pubs and the common foot soldiers alike feel themselves part of a destined people in a noble cause. They would do anything for Mr. Churchill, the man who saw them in such an heroic light.
I was recently with one of the wisest and funniest leaders I know. He loves his people. He calls his chief executive “Spock,” explaining that she is courageous, loyal, and always right. He calls the wise elderly man on his team “Gandalf,” from The Lord of the Rings. The talented young man who has risen from poverty to an Ivy League MBA and corporate success is “Rudy,” the elegant woman who oversees social outreach is “Mrs. Roosevelt.” You should see the sparkle in this woman’s eyes every time he calls her by this loving nickname.
You get the point. He frames them. He names them. He tells them how he sees them. He calls them to their best.
Now, you may not be the kind of leader who uses endearing nicknames and stirring descriptions. Yet you must—you must! –be the kind of leader who tells your team how you see them. Use movie characters or figures from literature if you want, names from sports or no nicknames at all, but the most important thing is that you imbed in the souls of those you work with an understanding of why you value them and what you believe about them. It changes everything, it lifts everything.
That CEO called “Spock” by the founder? Imagine what goes through her mind. She is valued for telling the truth. She is seen as a person of courage. The team looks to her for unvarnished truth. She is essential. She is in command. She is Spock of Starfleet Command—the TV show, not the video game! The point is that how her leader sees her and relies on her lives in her every day and makes her better, happier, and with a greater sense of being in place.
My challenge to you is to find your way of doing this. It can be done over a lunch. It can be done in writing. It can be done in big public gatherings with everyone shouting approval. It can also be done quietly in an annual review. Whatever your method, your goal is to make sure that all of your vital team members know how you see them, know what you value about them, and enjoy you celebrating it before others.