Ian Green examines the difference between being a boss and being a leader, and how choosing to be a leader changes how we interact with those we work with and can lead to more employee engagement and improved workplace performance.

Today’s topic is leadership. More specifically, what you can do to become a better leader.  I was inspired to write this post after reading Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work by David Rock.

What makes a good leader?  In my opinion, they inspire you to achieve more.  Bosses tell you what to do, but as David Rock explains, leaders help you how to think.  They are someone you go to when you need an insight.  Someone you want to follow. Not someone who micromanages your every move.  Below is a great illustration of this concept.

leadership vs management

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/84593672@N05/10141810486

To become a better leader, you need to make sure you are focused in the right areas.  An age-old proverb tells us that if we give someone a fish, they will eat for a day.  But if we teach someone to fish they will eat for a lifetime.  Leaders need to adopt this perspective.

Telling someone what to do is just like giving someone a fish.  It may help them in the short-term, but it does not advance their skills.  It is also time-consuming for the leader. To be a great leader you must teach people how to think and come to their own conclusions. In other words, teach them how to fish.

David Rock illustrates this point in his book Quiet Leadership: “Quiet Leaders are masters at bringing out the best performance in others.  They improve their employees’ thinking—literally improving the way their brains process information—without telling anyone what to do.  Given how many people in today’s companies are being paid to think, improving thinking is one of the fastest ways to improve performance.”

The argument is rather simple: to improve performance we need to improve how people think and process information. Leaders ask probing questions more often than giving detailed instructions. They help guide people to conclusions rather than telling them.

David uses a number of academic studies to make his point that people who develop their own conclusions are more likely to retain that information (and high performance) than those who were told what the conclusions were. Leaders can help guide their staff to these conclusions by using a number of techniques. One of the primary techniques is listening.

Really listen during the next conversation you have with a colleague.  Think about what they are asking you and why they are facing a roadblock.  Ask yourself what struggles they are facing and how you can help guide them past the issue to a solution.  Many times the individual needs to process the information verbally and a few questions will help them resolve the issue they are facing.  Ask questions rather than give direction.  That will help them discover the answer themselves.

Another great point that David brings up is how to improve performance of people who are struggling. When facing a colleague with performance problems, rather than focusing on the problem, try something new. Try to develop a new habit for the individual that will help them succeed.  Studies have proven that it is easier to develop new habits than to change bad habits. By changing their focus away from what was done wrong to what they need to do right, you are more likely to see lasting changes and better performance.

I encourage you to go to your library or favorite book store to read more about Quiet Leadership. There many great concepts and ideas you can adopt to become a better leader.

If you are a State of Oregon employee, you can access this book, free of charge, from safaribooks. Read more about this service and how to register on the Oregon State Library website: http://libguides.osl.state.or.us/safaribooks

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

*Author attempted to contact David Rock for approval to use materials from his book, but received no response. Author’s limited noncommercial use of copyrighted material from Quiet Leadership was done under the fair use exemption: http://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html.