Within some corporate structures, the leader is at the top of the pyramid, on higher rung than others, without peer. The financial bottom line can make these structures appear successful and model-worthy at first, but their profit is gained at the expense of the well being of everyone else who makes up the organisation. Typically, leaders that put themselves way out in front are not trusted, and do not get the best performance the people they work with.
Good leaders, on the other hand, make others feel safe. When leaders put the well being of the people in their care first, the security they offer their people translates into better teamwork, better effort, and far greater results. Simon Sinek, leadership expert, points out in his popular Ted Talk, that in the military, the best leaders are the ones who make sacrifices for others. They are the ones who inspire others to brave and incredible acts, because they nurture the mentality, ‘He would have done the same for me.’ Sinek notes that when soldiers of different ranks eat together, the higher ranking officers eat last, ensuring the people in their care have the resources they need to do the job the need to get done. According to Sinek, this strategy works well because of how we, as humans, are hardwired. “When people feel safe and protected by the organisation, the natural reaction is to trust and cooperate.”
The most effective models of leadership, then, are not the hierarchies we may expect. Democratic leadership, or even the surprisingly named ‘servant leadership’, offer a different approach. In these models, the leader, through their superior listening skills, ability to empathise and understand what workers are experiencing, can make judgements about the direction most likely to be successful, and then be a steward for the workers towards their shared goal. The object is to allow for everyone to grow and develop their skills and talents together, safe in the knowledge that such a community will make sacrifices and share successes with one another. Like parents, real leaders want to give all opportunities for growth and development they possibly can.
Lead the Ones You Are With
Everyone has the potential to be a great leader, taking care of those on either side of them, dispensing with notions of rank. Placing high importance on the needs of others will provide an environment in which they feel safe to do their best work. As Sinek says “We don’t want our leaders to do things for us. We want them to trust that we can do things. And if we fail, let us try again!”
How do you operate as leader? Do you agree that it’s best to put others first? What do you think is missing today when it comes to critical leadership skills? We’d love to hear your opinion so please join the conversation by leaving a comment below or filling out our Annual Critical Leadership Skills Survey.
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