What Riding an Elephant Taught Me About Leadership
Ever find your leadership skills tested by something bigger than you?
A couple of weeks ago I rode elephants on my honeymoon in Thailand. If this is an experience you have had--and I'm talking riding for miles, not just for a few feet like you would at a Renaissance Festival--you know there’s only so much control a rider can have over such an impressive beast.
Sure, there are guides who teach you various commands to help direct your pachyderm to move forwards and backwards, stop and take turns; but when an elephant wants to go somewhere, that’s where he goes.
When he was feeling a bit peckish for that tasty tree a little bit off the beaten trail, despite my commands to the contrary, the elephant would wander over to pull up the tree with his trunk (roots and all), stick it in his mouth. CRUNCH!
I wasn't supposed to be thinking about business on my honeymoon, but it occurred to me that employees are a bit like elephants. You can train, build skills, and bark out the appropriate commands--but in the end, it’s still up to employees to decide what they want to do. And sometimes they are a force to be reckoned with!
Here are some tips to make it more likely that there’s less crunching and more forward movement:
- Create a clear path - Unless it’s clear where you’re going, employees will stray without ever knowing they’ve done so. Do that with clear and collaborative communication.
- Make the destination irresistible - Make sure your end goal is a place where all of your employees intensely want to go, or you won’t ever get the right people hired in the first place. Communicate your destination (and the stops along the way) during the interview and frequently thereafter.
- Understand why your business destination is irresistible - Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why will help you get that clarity.
- Determine clear, authentic core values - It’s self-evident that when people are strongly motivated to go somewhere, they’ll find any way to get there and might even take short cuts. But it’s important that your core values provide guides for getting there using the right ethics, interpersonal respect, and methods.
- Align compensation - Ensure that the effort to get there is commensurate with reward. Also realize that each employee has different motivations, so be sensitive to them.
- Continually build skills - With a clear path and the incentive to get there, your employees might have the will, but they still need the way. Invest heavily in training.
You can yell, kick, and scream to get people to do something and go in a certain direction. They might go along with you, but only for a little while. However, when you communicate a clear and compelling path to everyone from the beginning, you’ll find it to be a more steady, satisfying, and profitable journey. It's just tricky getting up there the first time.