A Powerful Leadership Tool: Delighting In The People You Lead

Taking delight in the people you lead is a powerful, albeit seldom used, leadership tool. However, delight should be manifested only when three principles are put into play.

Leadership entails getting results, and getting results entails human relationships. The more closely the people and the leader bond, the more results will usually accrue.


However, most leaders and the people they lead look at those relationships as a one way street: charismatic leaders being commonly defined by sentiments bestowed on them from the people. But great leadership is really a two-way street, also involving sentiments going from the leader to the people.

We never know how good we are as leaders until we are delighting in the people we lead and, through that delight, leading them to get continually better results while they become continually better as leaders and as people.

I’ve seen leaders take a delight in and be inspired by the people they lead, and I have come to realize that this penchant is really a powerful, though rarely used, leadership tool.

However, to use the tool properly, three things must be kept in mind.

1. Delight must happen within the context of high results-expectations. In your delight, don’t be hampered by the bigotry of low expectations. An army commander I knew was known for having his men undergo the most difficult training and take on the toughest assignments. He delighted in his troops not just for what they wanted to do but what he challenged them to do. After all, leadership is not about having people do what they want to do. If they did want they wanted, you wouldn’t be needed as a leader. Leadership is about having people do what they may not want to do and be committed to doing it.

2. Delight must be truthful. Don’t try to manipulate people through your delight. When the circumstances called for it, the commander was brutally honest with us. If we weren’t measuring up to his high standards, we’d know about it from him in forceful and vivid ways. His honesty was a leadership lesson: have the troops see themselves as they should be seen, not as they want to be seen. Sure, he riled us up many times. But because his honesty helped the troops become better Marines, it was eventually accepted and even welcomed.

3. Delight must be practical. The commander was always linking the delight he found in the troops with lessons learned in accomplishing missions and best practices that came from the lessons. His delight wasn’t meant to have people feel good about themselves but to motivate them to take actions to be continually better. In that striving to be better and, getting better in the striving, we bonded. Clearly, going where we had to go and doing what we had to do, we were often miserable; but through it all, there was, in the back of my mind at least, the compulsion not to let him down — and not to let each other down.

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You may not have thought about delight as a leadership tool, but it is one of the most effective because it goes right to the heart of getting results through the cementing of right relationships. Keep these three factors in mind when expressing your delight, and your leadership will be blessed daily with new opportunities.

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