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Make The Elephant Jump: Leading with A Kind Heart

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

If you want to improve the organization, you must improve yourself, and the organization gets pulled up with you. - Indra Nooyi

Leadership is not about getting people to do what they want. If they did what they wanted, you would not be needed as a leader. Instead, leadership is about getting people to do what they do not wish to (or do not think they can do) and be ardently committed to doing it.

This paradox lies at the heart of all outstanding leadership.

Unlike management, which involves caring for and feeding your organizational elephant, outstanding leadership gets that elephant to jump.

Anyone who knows anything about elephants knows that they may run, stand on their hind legs, kneel on their fore legs, and roll over, but they do not jump.

And that is what leadership is all about: getting organizations to do what they usually cannot do, i.e., getting impressive results consistently.

Now, you cannot do the jumping yourself. The elephant must do it. You cannot push the elephant into the air. It must jump of its own volition.

Making the elephant jump involves cultivating a special relationship between the leader and the organization's people.

Many leaders misunderstand that relationship. They use fear and pain to spur the activity needed to achieve consistently impressive results. "Sure, I'll get this elephant to jump. Just give me an electric prod!"

But inducing fear and pain are habit-forming and destructive both to the leader and the people.

To make the elephant jump -- not now and then but consistently, i.e., to lead people always to achieve impressive results -- profound, the human emotional bonding between leader and people must occur. And fundamental to that bonding is the nature of the leader's heart.

This is the secret: You cannot get the elephant to jump unless you have a kind heart. Kindness in leadership means following the Leadership Imperative: "I will lead people in such a way that we not only achieve the needed results but we, the people and me, become better as leaders and people."

Most leaders focus on the first part, "getting better results," and forget about the second part. But in truth, when you have a kind heart, getting results and helping people be better are not two things but one.

From now on, see every leadership challenge you face as a way of having people increase their knowledge, their skills, their courage, their tenacity, and their leadership abilities. Cultivating that perspective is kindness.

But do not mistake kindness for being nice. Do not mistake kindness for having people feel good. Do not mistake kindness for allowing people to indulge in the worst aspects of their character, laziness, inconsiderateness, selfishness, etc.

Furthermore, you may be kind and have people frustrated with you. Many great leaders I have had relationships with got me frustrated as they had me go through the trouble of tackling challenges I might not otherwise have tackled. (In fact, deep, human, emotional bonding cannot happen without frustration.) But I was motivated despite my frustrations because I recognized they had my best interests.

Yes, through skill, persuasiveness, understanding, forcefulness, education, and guidance, you can get the elephant to jump -- if you do it through the kindness of your heart.

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