You Can Lead A Horse To Water

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, but You Can’t Make It THINK!

The marker of effective leadership, according to an old belief, was the ability to motivate employees to do the right things – again and again. Today we know that nobody motivates anybody to do anything – that people motivate themselves if, and it is big if, the environment engages them effectively.

And the key challenge is – engages them to do what?

In this world of increasingly complex work performed by an increasingly diverse workforce, leaders need to learn how to engage workers to think smartly, not just to act. Further, thinking is not a performance that can be spelled out in a job description; effective work requires understanding and dealing with the reality of the work environment. Nobody works in a vacuum any more!

Thinking involves first puzzling over the challenges of accomplishing the specific results in the specific organization culture that likely both supports and limits success. So staff must constantly scan their work world of goals, processes, norms, personalities and capabilities in order to decide how to proceed.

The role of leaders is to coach employees to recognize these important issues and, guided by what they find, to shape their efforts.

Here are some practical questions with which to coach your staff to hone their thinking – and thus increase their success:

  1. How does my task relate to the overall results we are seeking?
  2. Who will be affected by my (or my group’s) decisions or actions?
  3. Who might win or lose as a result and how can I mitigate any negative results?
  4. What do I (we) need to do to secure their support or compliance?
  5. Have I communicated my needs and time-line clearly to those who need to know?
  6. How do I keep all the key players informed and engaged?

When dealing with these questions becomes part of your employees’ every day behavior, you will have helped to create an environment that engages people’s minds and thinking processes. In other words, you will have led them to the “water” and they will do effective thinking on behalf of your organization’s goals.