Leadership can be defined as organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal.
The key word in this definition is people. Not organizing. Not goal. Not achieving.
It seems simple and obvious, but many leaders miss it. They get so focused on results, reports, etc. that the people, those who generate the results, get slighted.
It took me a while to get it too.
In over my head
Early in my career I focused on getting ahead as quickly as possible. I worked my tail off and got results. Eventually I earned a promotion.
I remember how I felt the first time I was in charge of a small project.
I was no longer at the bottom of the barrel. I was relieved to have a team of analysts to lean on for the grinding work. I was excited to be in charge of the day-to-day. I was proud of my new status.
Everything had changed
But not the way it should have.
I failed at leading this small team.
Although I had been a successful individual contributor, it didn’t mean I was ready to lead people.
It took me a while to understand that if I wanted people to follow me, I needed to lead them. Leadership is active, not passive.
Things worked out fine in the end, but I could’ve been a better leader sooner had I understood 3 simple truths:
1. Leadership is another form of relationship
Can we agree healthy relationships are based on people caring for each other? And each person in a relationship has responsibilities? Yes? Good.
Leading people is no different.
It requires investment from both parties and the initial investment should come from the leader.
Leaders set a vision and in return people work as a team toward it. Leaders are responsible for development and training and in return people develop better skills, judgement, and work.
As with any relationship, this works only when built on a foundation of trust and respect. We must act and speak with sincerity. If we don’t, our best people will call our bluff and/or leave.
People also need to know their leaders are behind them. We can’t expect our teams to give us their best if we don’t create an environment where it’s ok to take risks and possibly fail.
2. Leading people is a privilege
I want to be clear when I use the word privilege in this context. Yes, it’s great to have people do stuff for us and it’s nice to feel powerful or important, but these are temporary benefits.
The true benefit which makes leadership a privilege is having a permanent impact on another person.
It goes beyond job skills. As leaders we’re on display, our flaws exposed, even if we try to hide them for a period of time. And just as a child copies a parent, so will those whom we have the privilege to lead. We have complete control over the example we set.
We also spend more time with our work teams than we do with our families or friends. We are in the best position to understand someone’s true talents and passions. It’s our obligation to encourage them to grow into the people they’re meant to be. Not into what we’d like them to be.
Leadership is a privilege, yes. With great privilege comes greater responsibility.
3. Unleashing the leader in others
I saved the best for last.
The most rewarding benefit of leading people is growing more leaders. Everyone benefits.
When our teams are full of complementary leaders we see better ideas and results. People can exploit their strengths and contribute their full potential every day. Responsibility is spread as appropriate and people have individual freedom.
Strong teams also provide us personal freedom. We can rely on them to make good choices in our absence.
Unleashing the leadership skills in others also secures the future of the organization. Every leadership position is temporary and all we can do is leave the organization better than we found it. What better way than leaving it to a leader possibly better than ourselves?
This is a divine legacy.
Leading people should not be taken lightly. It requires a high level of emotional effort and investment. If you are a new leader of people it’s important to recognize this. If you’ve been leading people for a while it’s important to not forget this.
Check out the rest of the Leadership 101 series.