To lead people effectively, it requires hard work, every single day. A lot of leaders do not realise just how much hard work it really is.
If you don’t realise how much hard work leadership is, you will not be aware of the impact you have on your people, and you will not understand why your people behave negatively.
1. Living Your Message
In 2009 when I took the responsibility for increasing the wheel life of Merseyside’s trains, without actually realising it, I was living my message. Every day I was talking about increasing the wheel life, I was passionate about succeeding in this challenge, and my passion “rubbed off” on the team.
The engineers I was working with did not report in to me. However, I was influencing them through living my message and including everybody in the project, and how “we” would succeed, not “I”. Leadership is influence, and you can influence anybody when you live your message.
When the team and I were working on the small changes to increase our fleet of train’s wheel life, our engineering director Kevin was really pleased with what we were doing. He was so impressed, that he wanted us to increase our target to six years wheel life.
This was the maximum a train wheel-set could last. This would ultimately save our company a lot of money on changing out wheelsets a lot less. However, this was not the thinking of Kevin.
The reason he wanted to stretch our target was not for financial gain, it was to stretch ourselves as a team and as individuals. Kevin knew how to lead his people so that they could continuously improve.
Kevin was willing to give us the autonomy to do whatever it took to increase the wheel life to six years. I volunteered to continue to lead this project, and the team I had been working with wanted to continue too.
So we started by speaking with other train operator’s in the UK, and wanted to learn if there was anything they were doing differently to us that helped them increase their train’s wheel life to six years. The answer was to fit wheel lubricators to every train, in a fleet of 59.
The team and I put together the business case for this. Then I presented the business case to Kevin, as the leader of the project. Kevin liked what he saw and heard, and signed the business case off. Within a year we sourced the supplier of the wheel lubricators, and then fitted them ourselves to our trains.
I then trained the rest of the engineering team on how to maintain and replenish the lubricators. After a few months of the lubricators being fitted, wheel life was increasing and we eventually got to our first wheel-set lasting six years. We had achieved our stretch target that was set by our engineering director Kevin.
In 2009 this was one of the most successful projects that our engineering team had undertook, and I was the leader. This was my first time leading and influencing a team of engineers who had more experience than I did.
2. People Who Fear Change
There were people who were negative towards us, and that we would never achieve six years wheel life. But they were negative people who feared any new changes being implemented. We proved them wrong and I was very proud of the team, and of myself.
At that time in 2009, the company I was working for didn’t have any leadership development training within their engineering department. I wasn’t the kind of person who would read personal growth or leadership books then either. However, Kevin was a highly effective leader who I followed because I wanted to.
The rest of the engineering team followed Kevin because they wanted to also, not because they had to. If you read any kind of leadership book, he was the type of leader that these books would describe, and who you would want to follow. There are not enough leaders like Kevin around, especially in the engineering world.
Kevin encouraged me to start reading books on leadership and personal growth, and put what I was learning into practice when leading the project team. Kevin knows that leadership started with him, but it was about us.
3. Your Leadership Journey
He understood that leadership is a personal journey, and by letting me lead this project, he was letting me find my own path when starting my journey.
I started to buy more books on leadership and personal growth, and was going through them very quickly. I loved learning about highly effective leaders of the past, and how they overcame their challenges and struggles. Leadership became a passion, and every day I wanted to express my passion and live leadership.
As I said earlier, there was a lot of negativity from other members of the engineering team. They saw what I and the team I was working with were doing, and didn’t like that we were trying to implement change.
Kevin helped us with this. He cared about all of his people in the engineering department. He was a mentor to people, he coached us, led from the front. But, most of all he gave us credit when we deserved it. It was never about him.
Kevin had a saying, “If you can’t change the people, change the people.” By that he meant, if you can’t positively influence people to buy into you and your vision, then you will have no choice but to replace them. This however, was the very last option.
He would work his very hardest to implement the changes he wanted, and most of the time he would succeed. It was on very few occasions that people would resist no matter what, and he needed to bring in new people.
Even though the team and I were working really well together on the wheel life project, I don’t believe we would have made it as much of a success without Kevin’s leadership. This was a huge change for the team, and a huge team requires a highly effective leader like Kevin.
In 2011, I moved to Scotland to work on their railway as an engineering production manager. With this role I had my own team who reported into me, and I had a lot more responsibility than before. I also continued with being a student of leadership.
4. Helping Your Team To Develop And Improve
Reading books, taking courses, online courses, and I even did a yearlong leadership course at Edinburgh Napier University. When working with my team on shift, I tried my best to lead the team and help them to develop and improve.
When I started trying to help the people on the team develop, there was a lot of resistance. The reason for that is they were not interested in developing or improving. They just wanted to come to work, do their job and go home. That is fine, but if my team were not willing to improve, how would our results improve?
So, during a start of work briefing, I told the team, “Our team’s mission to get results, improve on them, and improve ourselves at the same time.” I asked them, “How are we going to do that?”
As soon as I asked that question, almost everybody on the team answered me. I asked them to work together during the day, and then come back to me at the end of the shift with their thoughts.
Three of them came back, and we had a plan. We called it a transformation plan. It was a transformation of results for the company, and our own performance. This is when I learned, if you ever need a plan for anything, let the team do it. Do not do it for them.
Change is very difficult if you do not help your people to grow and develop. If you want to help your people, you must add value to them. To add value to them, you need to help them become more valuable.
When adding value to your people, you are influencing them. When you are influencing your people, you are leading them. Highly effective leaders increase their influence with their people, every day.
You will come up against obstacles, resistance, and challenges with your people every day. It is up to you to overcome those obstacles.
There is not only one style of leadership. There are many styles and they need to be practiced with people every day. Leadership is extremely hard work, and the earlier you realise this, the better it will be for you and for your team.
I welcome hearing how this post has influenced the way you think, the way you lead, or the results you have achieved because of what you’ve learned in it. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below.
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All the best,