Finding the Genius Within

Some businesses succeed despite random inefficiencies. Vigorous economies allow such success. Indeed, "success covers a multitude of blunders," as George Bernard Shaw said.

However, weak economies and tough competitors test the mettle of a business. And many managers neglect one element that can be lethal to a business.

The most neglected ingredient promoting business growth is leadership. Why is it so neglected? Usually, simple ignorance. Not ignorance as in "stupidity," but as in ignoring known truths.

Some managers ignore leadership because they lack management experience. Others have sufficient management experience, yet deny that the tone for the business is set by them. Rather, they shift blame to the products, suppliers, customers, or employees.

They like to cite the results of a recent survey. About 50 percent of employees said they only put enough effort into their work to hold onto their jobs. And 84 percent said they could work better—if they wanted to. These managers focus on the phrase, "If they wanted to" and assume employees are simply unmotivated.

Managers are correct that it's the old "motivation problem," but they're wrong about the source. They think it's the employees. In fact, it's the leadership.

Leaders are largely responsible for their employees' levels of motivation. As proof, I present these same employees in their personal lives. They cultivate families, buy homes, plan vacations, take on projects, and continually learn. Few are lazy by nature.

So what mysterious power invades their souls every morning on their commutes? The answer turns out to be how managers structure the work environment. Some unwittingly reward bad behaviors. Others push employees toward goals that mean little to them. Too many micro-manage work processes. Most expect results that employees haven't heard, let alone understand. Altogether, many managers are undermining, rather than undergirding, their employees' self-confidence.

A leader must influence employees to apply their natural motivation on the job. A manager who lacks that influence suffers a severe leadership handicap.

The best motivators are always on the lookout for hidden capacities. They remember that Albert Einstein was four years old before he could speak and seven before he could read, Isaac Newton did poorly in grade school, and Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because he had "no good ideas."

Some research suggests that everyone is a genius in some form (Howard Gardner of Harvard University). The manager's challenge is to find each employee's genius.

A business short on capital can borrow money, and one in a poor location can move. But a business short on leadership has little chance of survival.

Originally published March 1, 2010

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