A Powerful Leadership Tool: Taking Delight In The People You Lead

When leaders take delight in and inspiration from the people they lead, they are emulating great leaders the author has encountered both in the Marine Corps and civilian life.  He says, however, that such delight should be manifested only when three principles are put into play.

By Brent Filson - 2006

Leadership entails getting results, and getting results entails human relationships. To an important degree, the more closely the people and the leader bond, the more results will accrue.
However, most leaders and the people they lead look at those relationships as a one way street: charismatic leaders being commonly defined by sentiments bestowed on them from the people.  But great leadership is really a two-way street, also involving sentiments going from the leader to the people.  
We never know how good we are as leaders until we are delighting in the people we lead and, through that delight, leading them to get continually better results while they become continually better as leaders and as people. 
For instance, 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 many decades, but I remember not so much what I did but what he did.  He went against the grain of the leadership style and conduct of some officers I knew -- officers who got the job done by being pretty much focused on themselves and their careers.
My ex-company commander, however, got the job done by being inspired by the troops, not by himself.
Out in civilian life, I've 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 really a powerful, though rarely used, leadership tool.
To use the tool properly, three things must be kept in mind.
1. Delight must happen within the context of high results-expectations.  In your delight, don't be hampered by the bigotry of low expectations.  My company commander was known for having his men undergo the most difficult training and take on the toughest assignments.  He delighted in his troops not just for what they wanted to do but what he challenged them to do.  After all, leadership is not about having people do what they want to do.  If they did want they wanted, you wouldn't be needed as a leader.  Leadership is about having people do what they may not want to do and be committed to doing it.
2. Delight must be truthful.  Don't try to manipulate people through your delight. When the circumstances called for it, my company commander was brutally honest with us.  If we weren't measuring up to his high standards, we'd 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 many times.  But because his honesty helped the troops become better Marines, it was eventually accepted and even 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 that came from the lessons.  His delight wasn't meant to have people feel good about themselves but to motivate them to take actions to be continually better.  In that striving to be better and, getting better in the striving, we bonded.  Clearly, going where we had to go and doing what we had to do, we were often miserable; but through it all, there was, 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 about delight as a leadership tool, but it is one of the most effective because it goes right to the heart of getting results through the cementing of right relationships.  Keep these three factors in mind when expressing your delight, and your leadership will be blessed daily with new opportunities.


2006© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"