Leadership is the skill of knowing how to let people find their own way to greatness but being there to help them when they need it.

I can't remember where I heard that but it's been on my mind lately as I've been going through the process of helping my family get things done for the pending funeral of my grandmother on Tuesday. I've had to interact with a lot of people I probably should have thought I'd be meeting, but of course most of us never think about meeting until it's time to get the process going.

As I meet all sorts of people for whatever reason, I find it interesting that I come across some people who seem to excel in what they do, some that may think they're excelling but instead of off-putting to a degree, and some who, for whatever reason, aren't putting forth the effort one would hope if those same people were working for you.

I'm not sure if you watch a TV show that comes on the USA Network called Burn Notice. It's a show about a spy who's been "burned" by someone in the CIA and his attempts to get back into the agency and find out who burned him and why. Yet each week he finds himself in situations of helping people that works well for someone with his background to be able to get the job they needed done in the best way possible.

One statement he's made on the show, which I've found is true, is this one: "Act like an authority and people will usually fall in line." It's a strange habit for people because many of them are supposed to be on top of their jobs and are supposed to know what to do in almost all situations. Yet I've found over the past few days that I've had to step up and use skills I'd rather not use on people to get things accomplished and to get answers and responses I need.

A big for instance is having people keep trying to tell me I can't do something or they can't do something. Frankly, with my background I tend to ask people to prove their words to me or get me someone who can prove it. If they can't then I put through my demand and stand firm on it. This isn't something I do often but I'm finding that many people try to fall back on the principles they probably learned as either children or parents when, if they didn't know something or really didn't want to allow something they'd say "we'll see."

I haven't heard those specific words but I've had people say or do things that bring those words into my mind. Many people tend to think they know what the rules are instead of knowing what the rules are; that's where business breaks down, procedures break down, processes break down, business breaks down, customer service breaks down... you name it, there's something breaking down.

When I was a manager, I worked hard on making sure every employee not only knew their processes, but knew where to find the answers they needed. It wasn't perfect because in business things change often. At the very least I always made sure everyone knew how and where to find the answers they needed. It allowed me to leave them alone and let them show what they could do, and most of the time I had people working for me that were superlative. And I was there when they needed help, but the more I could get them trained and comfortable with making their own decisions, the less often they needed to come to me for mundane things.

I don't think most employers work hard enough to allow their employees to be great, and thus it ends up being left to us, the consumer, to demand things and try to get what we need, sometimes by any means necessary. It's supposed to be a symbiosis, not an engagement of wills, but I guess life and business just aren't going to work that way.

What reasons do you have for not helping to make your employees great? And if you had to take one step today in moving in that direction, what would you do?