Making leadership not just about you
I have thought a great many times over the years about leadership and what goes into it, and I have written about that here in this blog on a regular if occasional, ongoing basis. I return to this topic in this posting, with both my own direct experience in working with others in mind and from the impetus of reading of failed leadership in recent news stories about our still ongoing global financial crisis.
This posting, however, is not about senior executives in our more problematical financial institutions, even if they do comprise among the worst negative examples I have ever seen or heard of for failure in leadership. I simply note in passing that when they begrudge the fact that their personal compensation packages are only a few hundred times that of their employees in scale – when the businesses they lead are loosing money and falling into trouble, that says a lot. Leadership has to be about more than just self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment, and it has to be about more than just ego and ego feeding if it is to work.
Effective leaders seek to empower others and to bring out the best in them. That means stepping off of any self-perceived perch and working with others as equals. That means listening as well as speaking. That means investing in the business and in its risks. And when a leader is an owner, that means accepting a level of financial risk that is proportional to their ownership stake. After all, owners share in the reward of profits in proportion to their ownership stake.
But for this posting I set aside financial risk and benefits, and I look to involvement and commitment and to day to day ongoing behavior and character. In that, leadership means looking beyond the bounds of personal ego and treating others and even the lowliest intern or part time employee with the same level of personal respect and consideration that you would want shown towards yourself. I choose to personalize this here with a second person narrative as this topic is personal and deeply interpersonal in nature, and both for leaders and for those who would follow them.
Stepping back further from the failures of leadership at the top of some of our more publically troubled financial giants, I would focus here on new and middle managers, and on setting a good example for them to follow in learning how to lead. Senior managers in effect build legacies that will continue on after their time, in the decisions and actions of others who they have influenced. An entry level manager of today may become a senior executive and one of your successors at the top of the table of organization as they proceed through their career.
• In all of this leadership is about looking beyond self and self-interest to the people around you and to the organization as a whole.
As a final thought here in this posting, I would turn to the issues of selecting members of your team for advancement into positions where they would exercise leadership responsibilities. As a more senior manager you may influence the people around you and this definitely holds for people who you manage, and who your direct reports manage. But the people you work with bring their own perspectives and the momentum of their own work histories and personalities, and their own priorities and goals with them too.
• Watch out for those who appear to be primarily driven by their own personal agendas. In this, “team player” need not and probably should not simply mean “conformist”, and there is a difference between taking a different perspective on the business and simply looking out for themselves.
• Watch out for members of your team who would pursue empire building and who would reorganize those around them and under their authority with a goal of building their own paths to personal advancement – and not in support of their team and its members or of the organization as a whole and its goals and needs.
So this posting is as much about leading and mentoring others to be effective leaders as it is about being one yourself. Though in this, fostering and developing future leadership skills in others should be a goal of any leader in the here and now.
I am going to follow this with a short series on developing management and leadership skills in others as a mentoring goal and responsibility. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at HR and Personnel.