Monday, December 8, 2014

Good managers influence; Great leaders inspire!

I watched Simon Sinek's TED talk video of "How Great Leaders Inspire Action" and it immediately reminded me of an unforgettable personal learning experience I have had.

Many years ago, I hired a young engineer into my team.  He became a star player very quickly and delivered amazing results with all the complex problems I threw at him.  When one day he asked me what he could improve, the only thing I was able to tell him was to talk to customers and figure out more customer pain points.

Unfortunately, he resigned before long.  He told me that he was thankful to my great impact to this first job he had but he wanted to work for a company with a household name that his Mom knows.  In case you are laughing -- he was the very first attrition I ever had as a manager!  I don't know about others but I was completely devastated when I lost a person from my team for the first time and not to mention here's a star engineer.  It was truly a big sad deal to me personally!

I finally asked him a question point blank, "what made you to start thinking about a new job?"  He looked at me and said something I would never forget for the rest of my career. "Howie, remember you told me in our 1x1 to spend more time in talking to customers. But I'm just a programmer, I don't understand why it is my job to talk to customers and I'm afraid I could not live up to your expectation.  Just when I felt I was a bit lost, a good friend from Apple called me."

Wow... An engineer became vulnerable for another job because I was merely telling him "what" to do, and apparently did not connect/resonate with him on the "why" in his heart.  As a result, he became less certain and less engaged.   Certainly this experience profoundly changed how I engage with my team for years to come.

Many years later, I am watching Simon's TED talk and like his wisdom so much -- don't hire those people who can do the job but hire those who believe what you believe; inspiring leaders communicate with people on the purpose, belief, and cause first and foremost, and then the tactical "what" and "how".

Had I learned much earlier this one difference between managers who influence ("what" and "how") vs. leaders who inspire ("why"), perhaps there would have been one less devastated person on the planet? :)