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A Powerful Leadership Tool: Delighting in The People You Lead

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. . . I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow-men and by rendering myself worthy of this esteem. Abraham Lincoln

Leadership entails getting results, and getting results involves human relationships. The closer the people and the leader bond, the more results will usually gain.

However, most leaders and the people they lead look to t those relationships as a one-way street: charismatic leaders being commonly defined by sentiments bestowed on them by the people. But outstanding leadership is a two-way street involving emotions from the leader to the people. 

We never know how good we are as leaders until we delight in the people we lead and, through that delight, continually teach them to get better results. At the same time, they often become better leaders and people. 

For instance, here is a letter I received from a friend that explains this leadership perfectly:

Dear Dr. McDonald,

I recently received an email from my old company commander inviting me to a reunion. He wrote, "I was the luckiest rifle company commander in the Marine Corps when I was surrounded by the best group of infantry officer lieutenants I ever knew. And they were all in our company!"

I had not heard from him in decades, but I remember what I did and what he did. He went against the grain of the leadership style and conduct of officers I knew -- officers who got the job done by being focused on themselves and their careers. 

My ex-company commander, however, got the job done by being inspired by the troops, not by himself. 

In civilian life, I have seen other leaders take a similar delight in and be inspired by the people they lead, and I have come to realize that this penchant is a powerful, though rarely used, leadership tool. 

However, three things must be considered to use the tool properly. 

1. Delight must happen within the context of high results expectations. In your delight, do not be hampered by the bigotry of low expectations. 

My company commander was known for having his men undergo the most challenging training and take on the toughest assignments. He delighted in his troops for what they wanted and for what he challenged them to do. Leadership is not about having people do what they want to do. If they did want, you would not be needed as a leader. Leadership is about having people do what they may not like and be committed to doing. 

2. Delight must be truthful. Do not try to manipulate people through your delight.

When the circumstances called for it, my company commander was brutally honest. If we did not measure up to his lofty standards, we would know about it from him in forceful and vivid ways. His honesty was a leadership lesson: have the troops see themselves as they should be seen, not as they want to be seen. Sure, he riled us up times. But because his honesty helped the troops become better Marines, it was accepted and welcomed. 

3. Delight must be practical.

My company commander was always linking the delight he found in the troops with lessons learned in accomplishing missions and best practices from the studies. His joy was not meant to have people feel good about themselves but to motivate them to act to be continually better. We bonded in striving to be better and improve in the striving. Going where we had to do what we had to do, we were often miserable, but in the back of my mind, at least, the compulsion not to let him down -- and not to let each other down. 

You may not have thought of delight as a leadership tool, but it is one of the most effective because it goes right to the heart of getting results by cementing the right relationships. Remember these three factors when expressing your delight; your leadership will be blessed daily with new opportunities.

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