One of the great joys and tragedies of leadership is that you'll never exactly know how well you led.
An engineer can take a test. A baseball player can look at his stats. But leaders have no objective measure.
Is that frustrating?
It gets more difficult.
What few measures we have rely on other people, whose thoughts we can never know. If they say something nice, we'll never know if they meant it or are sparing our feelings.
You are the only person you can't see from another person's perspective, yet their perspectives matter in leadership, not yours. How well you think you led doesn't matter as much as your followers think.
What you can do about it?
You can't change how leadership works or read others' minds. You can learn to enjoy the ambiguity and uncertainty like a sailor developing sea legs. Being a leader is like being at sea, never standing on solid ground.
Being at sea isn't bad, just different, and some people love it.
A strategy that works
Let's go a step farther.
When a manager manages well, he or she gets compliance. People they manage might ask, "How did I do?"
When a leader leads well, he or she changes people's motivations and emotions. That's different than compliance. Someone well-led will say afterward, "Thank you."
That's an amazing result worth contemplating: when you lead someone effectively, they thank you for getting them to work. Often, the harder they work the greater their thanks.
How do you get someone to thank you for getting them to work?
They aren't thanking you for the physical labor they did. They're thanking you for the meaning you created in that work.
How do you create meaning?
You create meaning by connecting their work to their already-existing motivations--that is, their emotions.
One challenge of effective leadership is to learn the motivations and emotions of your followers before leading them on a task, then to connect that task to that emotion.
In Dwight Eisenhower's words,
Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it.
What the former president and general left out was how to learn their reasons.
You have to listen after prompting them to share.
To prompt them to share, you have to behave and communicate in ways that make them feel comfortable sharing, which means putting them in the foreground and yourself in the background.
As Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree Frances Hesselbein says, "To serve is to live." Serving others by necessity puts them first. That's a big part of why Peter Drucker called Frances the best leader in America.
Since seeking recognition could sound to others like insecurity or vanity, many leaders feel awkward making a goal of getting people to show gratitude. They shouldn't. It's one of their best measures of effectiveness.
Someone thanking you for motivating them to work shows that you found and acted on their why. It means you motivated them as Ike would have--"because they want to do it."
- Behave to make them feel comfortable sharing.
- Listen for their motivations.
- Connect their motivations to the task.
- Feel comfortable accepting their thanks.