When you ask people to go above and beyond, and they do it, you go into debt.
I am talking about those circumstances when you ask people to work hard, really hard. Those happen at Startups, and occasionally they happen at big companies too—those do-or-die moments when everything is on the line for growth.
The bottom line is that when people step up and go above and beyond, that’s all debt that will have to be paid back and come due at some point.
I call that leadership debt. All of it will need to be paid back with rewards, growth, and recognition. Nobody works for free, and people have reasonable expectations that by going above and beyond their careers, financials, and anything that can be propelled forward will be.
Leaders that make promises they don’t keep go into a sort of leadership bankruptcy. I’ve seen it happen; it’s the worst kind of leadership reputation if people know you won’t fight hard, put it all on the line for them when you ask them to go above and beyond.
I once worked for a leader who had a reasonable expectation that I work hard. A couple of times, he called on me to do something on weekends. When the promotion cycle came, he sat me down and said, “Louie, congratulations, you are getting promoted two levels up.” I tried hard to contain myself, I knew I had worked hard, but I was shocked and not expecting that much of a reward. This all made me work even harder because I knew the growth would follow, and my leaders paid their debts.
If you become the sort of leader that pays your debts, then your people will always go above and beyond anytime you ask or is needed. If you don’t pay your debts, expect leadership bankruptcy. Expect never to be able to go into debt again for growth. Expect to lose people rather than retain and grow them.
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