The Connor Factor

Here's a way to boost your leadership effectiveness now and throughout your career.

By Brent Filson - 6/2010

This month, college graduates, armed with "hot" degrees (engineering) or "cold" degrees (English), are hitting the job market.

As usual, the media is toting up what this year’s crop of graduates can command for starting salaries.

However, over the long run, degrees are pretty much useless. Sure, they’re tickets to the dance. But they have little to do with one’s ability to do well in the dance.

As a human resource director told me: "We hire people for their education and job skills, but we promote them or we fire them for their ‘people skills’ or lack of ‘people skills.’ So what we hire for and what we promote and fire for are usually two different things!"

The director was right except for one thing: the concept of people skills. It’s one of those concepts in business that mean everything and nothing. Let me substitute another concept for people skills. It’s the Connor Factor, and it can boost the job performance and advance the careers of the leaders you work with.

Connor was a sergeant I knew in the Marine Corps. He wasn’t your typical fire-breather Marine NCO. On the contrary, he was rather soft-spoken. But he was blessed with a great gift: He had a talent for cultivating the Marines under his command to be great leaders.

Under Connor’s tutelage, lance corporals and corporals led their teams and squads with skill and passion. Connor’s leaders could always be counted on to get results. The greatness of Connor’s leadership was measured not so much by the things he did but by the great leadership of the people he led.

That is what the Connor Factor is all about: motivating others to lead others to consistently get results. It doesn’t matter what degrees you have. It doesn’t matter what schools you went to. Without being imbued with at least some measure of the Connor Factor, leaders can’t go as far as they might in their careers.

Here is how you as a learning leader can help not only graduates just entering your organization but also leaders of all ranks and functions put the Connor Factor into action every day.

First, view everybody you work with as a leader. Sergeant Connor declared that every Marine is a leader in some way. Connor said that his job as a sergeant was to recognize the leadership in each individual and direct that leadership to positive ends. We are all leaders, no matter what we do. In my civilian activities, I knew a utilities’ plant manager who understood only too well the boomerang effect of the Connor Factor. He said, "Some workers are so hostile to management that they get angry if I give them overtime and angry if I don’t give them overtime. I got so fed up with them that I announced that I would give them all five foot sticks so that they could stir crap without bending over! As stirrers of crap, they’re great leaders!"

People are always engaged in leadership. In that case the workers were leading their cause — not the plant manager’s cause. The plant manager’s challenge was to get them to lead his cause.

Second, challenge people to lead, not do. Sergeant Connor continually challenged his young Marines to take leadership when accomplishing their missions. You are applying the Connor Factor when you divide the actions people take into two broad categories: leading and doing. There is a decisive difference between the two. When we are doing, we are simply accomplishing tasks. We are getting a job done.

For instance, a electrical power-distribution leader told me: "I had just taken over as the leader of our company’s underground unit. My mandate was to make big changes in that unit to improve productivity. Being "subterraneans,’ they saw themselves as outlaws of the company. My first day on the job, a worker came out of the shadows and pumped my hand. ‘You don’t know who I am,’ he said, ‘and that’s good!’ He disappeared back into the shadows! I realized then that they didn’t want to be changed. They just wanted to be left alone to do what they wanted to do not what the organization needed them to do. I knew that I had my work cut out for me!" Until those workers become instilled with the Connor Factor themselves, productivity will not dramatically improve in the unit.

When we are leading, we do nothing more important than motivate others to take leadership in getting the job done. And when they lead in getting a job done, they usually do a better job. Don’t accept people simply doing a task. Challenge them always to be leading the accomplishment of that task. You will find that when you challenge people to lead not do, their world changes. And they begin changing their world — and ours.

As a learning leader, teach the Connor Factor. Those who learn it may tell you in months and years to come, it’s some of the best career advice they ever got.

Copyright © 2010, The Filson Leadership Group, Inc.

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Brent Filson
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