Sunday, February 14, 2016

Finding the WOW Factor in your Leadership

One of my guilty pleasures is America’s Got Talent, a reality television show. In this show, one former judge regularly talked about looking for the WOW factor in the acts that are performing – he was looking to be completely blown away. The WOW factor is simply a distinct appeal that an individual or an object has on others. For the leader, this translates into an impressive display of leadership acumen and skill. But how do you find the WOW factor in your leadership? It’s easy… simply consider three things to make you appeal to others: practice makes perfect, knowledge is power, and just do it.

Practice Makes Perfect
I love sports and particularly college football. The excitement of Saturday afternoon in the fall is something I look forward to. But, according to the NFL, only 3.4% of all college football players make it to the pro ranks. To be sure, one reason why these elite few reach the pinnacle of their sport is through practice. According to Martha Graham, “Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.” While this sounds like the life of a professional athlete, it is also the life of an everyday leader. Perfection is hard to accomplish but worthy of our effort. As leaders, we influence others to accomplish things greater than any of us could achieve individually… we strive toward a common vision. Practicing leadership may not make us perfect leaders, but it will make us perfectly prepared for leading.

Knowledge is Power
Knowledge is historically gained through intentional study or by experience. We have often attributed knowledge to those who have been around the longest or to those we consider the smartest. But knowledge is no longer the domain of a privileged few. We recognize that everyone around us brings knowledge and that all of this knowledge is valuable in making decisions. But Indian philosopher Krishnamurti thought of knowledge this way, “To know is to be ignorant. Not to know is the beginning of wisdom.” As leaders, we too often confuse knowledge with wisdom. While it is important to consider the thoughts and ideas of our team – their knowledge – it is more important to be aware of what we don’t know. Leadership is about balancing emotions with reason to make good decisions. When we focus only on the information in front of us, we may not be acting as wisely as we can.

Just Do It
Nike made this phrase a standard part of our vocabulary and I venture to say that as a leader, you have uttered this phrase at least once when trying to get others to follow along. However, we too often get caught up in the act of getting others to “just do it” and often forget to follow our own advice. Philip J. Eby suggests we put too much thought trying to find the “why” in what are doing. We should instead stop trying and start doing. In other words, don’t over-think the problem, allow motivation to occur naturally and see what happens. Leadership expert John Maxwell puts it this way, “The whole idea of motivation is a trap. Forget motivation. Just do it. Exercise, lose weight, test your blood sugar, or whatever. Do it without motivation. And then, guess what? After you start doing the thing, that's when the motivation comes and makes it easy for you to keep on doing it.” When you are self-motivated, you become the leader that others want to follow.

Even though the relationship between leadership appeal and performance has been challenged, I contend when we have a distinct influence on others we are more effective as leaders. When we are more practiced as leaders, wiser leaders and more motivated leaders, we have more influence. Imagine there was a reality television show for leaders and the judges were looking for the WOW factor in your leadership… how would you rate?