Make The Elephant Jump -- Leading With A Kind Heart

A leader who wants to consistently motivate people to meet tough challenges and achieve extraordinary results must have a kind heart.

By Brent Filson - 2005

Leadership is not about getting people to do what they want.  If they did what they want, you wouldn't be needed as a leader.  Instead, leadership is about getting people to do what they don't want to do (or don't think they can do) – and be ardently committed to doing it.
This paradox lies at the heart of all great leadership. 
Unlike management, which involves simply the care and feeding of your organizational elephant, great leadership gets that elephant to jump. 
Anyone who knows anything about elephants knows that they may run, they may stand on their hind legs, they may kneel on their fore legs, they may roll over; but they don't jump.
And that's what leadership is all about: getting organizations to do what they usually can't do, i.e., getting great results consistently. 
Now, you can't do the jumping yourself.  The elephant must do it.  You can't push the elephant into the air.  It must jump of its own volition.
Making the elephant jump involves cultivating a special relationship between the leader and the people of the organization.
Many leaders misunderstand that relationship.  They try to use fear and pain to spur the activity needed to achieve consistently great results.  "Sure, I'll get this elephant to jump.  Just give me a cattle prod!"
But inducing fear and pain are habit forming and ultimately destructive both to the leader and the people.
To make the elephant jump -- not now and then but consistently, i.e., to lead people to consistently to achieve great results -- deep, human emotional bonding between leader and people must take place.  And fundamental to that bonding is the nature of the heart of the leader.
This is the secret: You can't get the elephant to jump unless you have a kind heart.  Kindness in leadership means following the Leadership Imperative: "I will lead people in such a way that we not only achieve the needed results but they become better as leaders and people."
Most leaders focus on the first part "getting better results" and forget about the second part. But in truth, when you have a kind heart, getting results and helping people be better are not two things but one. 
From now on, see every leadership challenge you face as a way of having people increase their knowledge, their skills, their courage, their tenacity, and their leadership abilities.  Cultivating that perspective is a kindness.
But don't mistake kindness for being nice.  Don't mistake kindness for having people simply feel good.  Don't mistake kindness for allowing people to indulge the worst aspects of their character, laziness, inconsiderateness, selfishness, etc.
Furthermore, you may be kind and have people be frustrated with you.  Many great leaders I've had relationships with got me frustrated as they had me go through the trouble of tackling challenges I might not otherwise have tackled. (In fact, deep, human, emotional bonding cannot happen without a great deal of frustration.)  But I was motivated despite my frustrations because I recognized that they essentially had my best interests at heart.   
Yes, through skill, persuasiveness, understanding, forcefulness, education, and guidance, you can get the elephant to jump -- as long as you do it through the kindness of your heart.


2005© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"