At the heart of great leadership is a commitment to invest in those you lead. You do not see them as resources to exploit. You do not see them as vessels to draw out of and then one day leave behind as empty shells. No, you want those you lead to grow under your leadership. You want them to be better when they leave you than they were when they joined you. In short, leadership makes people better—all people, particularly those on your immediate team.
The great news is that there are practical ways of investing in those you lead that cost you almost nothing, yield huge results, and will transform the culture of your firm. I want to recommend some of these strategies now, in the middle of summer, so that perhaps you will consider implementing them in the fall.
One of the simplest and yet most powerful is a reading program. The U.S. Marines do this. Some of the best companies do this with their executives. I have done it with my teams. Usually there is a booklist. Some are required but there are also a list of optional books people can choose from according to interest. The books are then discussed in small groups—both to learn from other readers and to assure everyone is doing the work—or there are written reports required for each book. For those who complete the entire list, there are rewards. One company sends couples out for nice dinners. Another offers “Reading Pay” each year. All who finish the lists are celebrated publicly. Usually there’s a new list every year.
I’m most impressed with the U.S. Marines’ program. Their required reading is diverse, ranging from novels to classic tomes. Some of the books even criticize episodes in Marine history or take on longstanding assumptions of Marine leadership. In other words, the Marine list is a thinker’s list. It’s intended to build leaders, not robots. I also like that it comes from the top—the Commandant—and is urged on every Marine. A successful organization wants to build leadership at every level. Besides, you never know what that Corporal at Camp Pendleton might be capable of accomplishing one day. So, invest in him and find out.
Another version of this is a health program. Have a competition for pounds lost or miles walked or the number of steps on your Fitbit. We did this at a firm I helped to lead and were always stunned at who was motivated by the $500 check or the dinner out for the family or the raise. The spirit of friendly competition, the healthier bodies, and the love of a firm that invested in people made the whole organization happier and more successful.
Now, there are more high-dollar ways to do this. You can send people to conferences, help pay for degrees, or sponsor continuing education programs. I’ve done them all. They all change lives. I’ll tell you, though, that the simpler programs everyone participates in have made the biggest difference. When the new guy in accounting is discussing Killer Angels with the CEO and the grounds keeper over hamburgers once a week, that’s when real team building and growth happens.
Invest in people. Make them better. Get better with them. Reward their work. Remember this: great leadership makes everyone better.