Thoughts from Guy

The Power of Interest

Some years ago, I attended an education fair at our daughter’s school.  One of the most beloved teachers, Mrs. Blanning, gave a vivid presentation on kindergarten education.  She is a petite woman, yet she spoke with great clarity, confidence and humor.  She evoked childhood wonders and highlighted the lovable nature of her students.  Provocatively, toward the end of her presentation, rather than re-emphasizing the affection she had for the children, she concluded by saying, “Remember, interest is more powerful than love.”

Mrs. Blanning’s words struck a chord with me – particularly her emphasis on interest.  I immediately realized that interest was the answer to a leadership puzzle I was facing in my consulting work.

In one instance, the leader (let’s call him Bill) held the senior operational role in a company.  He was a talented and likable person who had forged good working relationships with his superiors, peers and customers.  However, Bill’s CEO discovered that Bill’s team was unhappy and not performing well.  My study of the situation revealed that Bill did not invest the effort to build relationships with team members, understand their work or solve problems on their behalf.  Team members felt undervalued, operational results suffered, and the department’s poor performance had a negative impact on customer retention and business profitability.

In this case, Bill showed no interest in his team member’s success or well-being, and as a result, morale and performance suffered.  When faced with the need to change his leadership approach, Bill elected to leave the company for a role consisting of less management responsibility.  His successor involved himself in the day-to-day work of the team and results improved swiftly and dramatically.

In another instance, I was asked to coach a talented executive (let’s call her Sam).  As I began to get to know Sam, it became clear that she was quite sensitive to whether her boss paid attention to her input.  She became quite upset whenever she felt her boss ignored or discounted her ideas.

In our initial work together, Sam and I examined some 360-degree feedback collected from her colleagues.  Through that process, Sam learned that she was not paying much attention to developing her people.

Through our coaching discussions, Sam realized that her people were experiencing a similar type of disinterest that she experienced from her boss.  This served as strong motivation for her becoming a more active mentor.  She wanted to be the type of leader she hoped her boss would be.  Sam took immediate steps to coach her direct reports and showcase their talents.  Sam’s efforts were so successful that some months later one of her subordinates was offered a plum assignment higher in the organization.

Mrs. Blanning knew that interest and active participation in a child’s life is a key to effective teaching.  My experience in the corporate world suggests that executives who show genuine interest in their team members’ experience – and who take action on behalf of their subordinates’ effectiveness and development – can inspire higher levels of engagement and performance.  Thank you Mrs. Blanning for providing the key to the puzzle.

People is the third factor of IMPACT Leadership, a model of the fundamental work of leadership.

© 2015 Guy Cornelius