A thought checklist for all leaders

By Steve Woods

When we go for our weekly shop we usually create a list of items to remember to buy, we may occasionally get distracted as we wind our ways down the aisles, but the list always brings us back to our essentials.

When we go on holiday we create a list of items to pack, we may pack items that are extras, but we come back to the list to ensure we capture the most important things to make the trip go well.

As a Manager, I have always found that I am far more effective if I have a spine of activity to my day. Whilst I may deviate as events unfold within a busy operational environment, I can always bring myself back to this. Without it I can become a busy fool very quickly.

When NASA is in launch phase for a rocket it uses checklists to ensure that the many thousands of safety items and sequences involved are validated and approved, they may occasionally have to hold, but they always come back to the list to ensure nothing gets missed. As talented as their technicians and astronauts are, they recognise the chances for deviation and distraction are high and these are a fundamental aspect of making the organisation function well.

At all different levels of life, from the mundane to the truly inspiring, we fall back on this principle to ensure that in our busy lives and schedules we remain focused on the critical things. Without them we easily get distracted, miss important principles and become error prone.

So why, when it comes to the most important task of all in leadership – How to Motivate, – do we leave far too much to chance?

Leaders should never consider themselves immune to the same pressures as everybody else in life. We are extremely vulnerable to the demands of a busy life, and given our actions and behaviours often impact a much larger population, then it could well be argued that we are far more vulnerable. In addition the pressure to achieve that we constantly feel means the chance we may deviate from core principles is very high.

As the basis of all great leadership is our principles and thoughts about people we should never leave these to chance. We don’t achieve anything unless those thoughts and values are constantly aligned with our behaviours and then demonstrated in our day to day actions. To achieve that we must constantly remind ourselves of the 6 most important principles of leadership. The thoughts we should calibrate ourselves against everyday are,

  • I can only ever be as good as those people around me. The more they succeed the more I will achieve. Enable a team’s growth and development first and foremost.
  • My success is defined by my will to empower people to achieve – not be my ability to control them. Strength defines my ability to let go, not my ability to strengthen my grip.
  • I should spend far more time listening and being in others space than I should talking or being sat behind my desk. Nobody can be inspired by an absent leader.
  • Success does not make me great, or failure make me inept. What both conditions do is provide an opportunity to grow and get better.
  • People feel my actions and behaviours far more than the words that come out of my mouth. The balance between support and challenge is one I most constantly look to get right.
  • I have no value outside of my ability to inspire the actions and serve the needs of those around me – inspiration comes from helping open doors, not slamming them shut.

Leaders who are prepared to hold themselves accountable for applying this checklist to their actions everyday and have sufficient honesty and intelligence to apply practical behaviours against them will find the route to inspiration and human motivation. As always, it starts with us.

And to the NASA analogy it does not have to be rocket science –

  • Coach instead of tell
  • Ask for recommendations, don’t dictate answers
  • Let people pursue their ideas
  • Go for a walkabout
  • Listen well and ask questions before offering opinions.
  • Treat people as they make a difference – deal with individual needs and issues
  • Aim to say Yes in a day more than No!

There are many more simple behaviours if we choose to apply ourselves.

Your thoughts today do indeed become your actions tomorrow – so check them everyday and never lose sight of them. The shopping mall that is our mind can offer many deviations and temptations that can take us away from our true role – to serve and inspire – we must always be brought back to that principle and hold ourselves accountable against it above all else.