Everywhere you look, businesses, entrepreneurs, and organizations are telling anyone who will listen what makes their products and services the preferred choice in their industry. They mention things like price, quality, service, and selection. In the end, as consumers we are left to decide which of those things make the biggest difference to us.
What about your competitive advantage as a leader?
Never thought about it? Then you’re behind the curve on this one. And here’s why.
In today’s shrinking business world, it’s no longer viable to think that you can lead without first adding value. If you still believe that people can be influenced to commit to you based on salary, benefits, and working conditions alone, then you are just like those companies who attempt to sell us their products based on price and packaging.
Just as there are similarly priced items, employees know that even in this economy they can find companies that will pay them a similar salary, with similar benefits, under similar working conditions. There must be something about you, as a leader, which sets you and your company apart.
If you’re looking for the one advantage that will get people to sit up and take notice, then I’m going to ask you to look to your past for the answer. Think about the best leaders you’ve ever worked with. What set him or her apart? How did you feel when you were working with them? How did they treat you and your coworkers?
As for me, I’ve had more than my fair share of leaders who were difficult to work with, and who added no value for me as an employee.
There was the one who spoon-fed me information as if it were so precious I didn’t deserve to get it all. God forbid I might actually have an idea of how what I’m doing fits in with the bigger picture for the organization!
I remember sitting in one particular yearly performance review – a year when I felt I had made extraordinary efforts on behalf of the company and my department. He gave me mostly “average” marks, with a couple of “outstanding” checks sprinkled in. When I told him I thought I deserved better, I’ll never forget what he said.
“I think you did a great job, too. But if I give you all “outstanding” ratings, then you have nowhere to go from there. You’ll probably get lazy. If I give you some lower marks, then you’ll say, ‘Oh yeah? Well, I’m going to work even harder. I’ll show you!’”
Can you spot the flaws in that strategy?
On the positive side, I had a Director who saw to it that I had all the information I needed to perform my duties to the very best of my capabilities. She would ask what, if anything, I needed to get the job done. She was there to support me when I needed it, and to let me work effectively on my own without micromanaging. And, when the job was done, she was there to give me the verbal feedback that I needed and wanted. And working with her, I felt like what I was doing really made a difference.
We have all worked with leaders who made us feel like we matter; we make a difference. And sometimes not just a difference to the company, but also a difference to them.
When you can make your people feel special – significant – then you have an opportunity to build a powerful connection that will inspire them to give more. As Tom Peters, noted business author and speaker says, “We wildly underestimate the power of the tiniest personal touch.”
So tell that person on your team, “You did a great job on that report,” or “Thank you for all your hard work on this project. We couldn’t have succeeded without you.” Better yet, do it in front of others. You will have gained an indispensable ally for the future.
Now that is what I call a “Competitive Advantage!”
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Kevin Ciccotti, Human Factor Formula
Helping companies create sustainable, effective teams that are committed to the success of their projects, the organization, and the individuals with whom they work