The Essential Vitamins a Leader Must Dispense

Looking back on those individuals who were my bosses, a clear distinction comes to mind.

There were those that encouraged me, educated me, energized me, and engaged me, or put another way, gave me the essential “E” vitamins I needed to become a success.

In comparison there were some who did none of these things, leaving me to find another way to be successful.

I heard a story sometime back about a man who was on his deathbed, being interviewed. The dying man was asked what single thing people did that made a difference in his life. After a moment he said, “Encouragement. They encouraged me.”

I watched the end of Saving Private Ryan this past weekend. As Captain Miller lay dying, his final words to Private Ryan were: “Earn this.” Near the end of his life, Ryan stood in the cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach and reflected back on his life to see if he had measured up to the high standard set by Miller.

One of the individuals who encouraged me was a college administrator that I respected. One day she told me, “You write well.” I never forgot her words and I never forgot her. What she said made a significant difference in my life with three short words.

Leaders need to educate others. Education is all about becoming better. The leader has to become better for others. Marie Curie said “You cannot hope to build a better world without improving individuals.” Those who are in positions of leadership that don’t teach or don’t care to teach are simply doing a disservice to those around them.

Lacking passion, commitment, or desire, it is impossible to be an energy source. I remember Paul Miller, the president of Hills Bros. Coffee, walking fast, talking fast, animated in his gestures, intently focused on whomever he was speaking with.

Paul was one of those people that you always wanted to do right by; his energy was contagious. He laughed a lot. Paul simply energized those around him.

Looking back, I believe Paul knew that he had to talk the talk, and walk the walk, even when he didn’t feel like it. He had to do it for those he led and he was sincere in his effort.

Engaging people means tapping into their strengths, talents, abilities and interests. This means that employees have to understand the connection between what they do at work and the greater good. Every organization serves a higher purpose but this is often not explained or understood. The leader has to take the action to explain not just “what” but “why.”

Engaging is tied to effort. Every day the leader is under the microscope by followers, waiting to see if and how they stumble, what mistakes they make, and how they deal with failure, disappointment and setback.

Leaders worth following pick themselves up and try again, in a different way. That sets an example. The best leaders model behavior and actions by setting examples for others to emulate.

Are you providing those you lead with the essential vitamins for success?

John Quincy Adams said nearly 200 years ago that “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

What are your actions saying to others? What are your words doing for others? Are you building up or tearing down?