leadership 1

I recently had an interaction with a business owner whose way of “leading” is to bark out commands. He uses his position as owner of the business to bully those around him. Out of fear, people generally respond and much is accomplished. But it’s not without a price.

Almost every communication with him carries an edge, and he often leaves the people who work for him feeling like they can’t please him. He is quick with criticism. He consistently complains about how every problem is a result of a dumb decision by someone else.

Purely through intimidation he often gets results. But the telltale sign is that when he leaves the office, everyone sighs with relief and hopes he won’t be back.

Ultimately, his leadership style is not one that leads to long-term success. Talented people who work for him will eventually find other opportunities where they are truly valued and appreciated.

As I work with leaders in different avenues of life, I am surprised how many people have an incorrect view of what leadership is. Most people think of leadership as what I would call being in charge. That is, they assume that the person who is in a positional leadership role over them is a leader. But this is often not true. The fact is that most people who are in a leadership position are not good leaders.

Good leaders lead through the relationships they build with the people on their team. The key ingredient in becoming a good leader is to become good at building good relationships. The fact is that being a good leader requires you to become a combination of a friend and a servant to the people that you lead.

The reality is that if you don’t like people or don’t like interacting with them, then your chances of being a good leader are greatly diminished. One of my pet phrases when working with leaders is that “leadership is a contact sport.” It involves interacting with people. And these interactions can be quite messy at times.

Periodically over the years, I have been asked if you can become a leader if you don’t like people. My answer is that you might be able to be an effective leader if you are in a positionally powerful position. But you will not be able to capture people’s hearts and propel them and your organization to exceptional performance unless you master building relationships and serving the people on your team.

Good leaders start out as good people. They are successful people. They are not selfish. They are committed to making themselves better. They also believe that they can help the people they are leading become better. They invest in the individuals on their team and try to help each person on the team reach their potential.

Good leaders also are disciplined and exercise self-control. They are careful about what they say because they understand the destructive power of poor communication. They build people up and encourage wise risk-taking with their encouraging words.

They also understand that on their way to success, occasional failure is part of the journey. Each failure ultimately can become a propellant to success if taken as an opportunity for learning and midcourse corrections.

Ultimately great leaders understand that the true nature of leading people is the ability to serve them. A good leader asks the question, “What can I do to make my team member become more effective and more successful?” This sincere caring is an essential trait of a great leader.

My best friend exemplifies this ability. Through the years, he has had management positions with many organizations. What is notable is that people who worked for him as much as thirty to forty years ago are still part of his life. In fact, many people have worked for him multiple times in different companies.

Why? Because he leads by investing in the people on his team. He is willing to correct his staff but always with an eye toward the issue, not criticizing the person. He understands how to correct the problem but not destroy the confidence of the individual. His management – that is, leadership – is intentionally relational. And because he is sincere, many of these relationships have continued long after the working relationship ended.

If a leader does not have integrity, the people on the team may follow him for a while, but they will not do their best for him. The bullying leader described above may get some short-term results, but anyone with talent will soon move on. Ultimately, a team led by someone who does not care about the team will fail as only people who can’t get a job anywhere else will remain on the team.

Leaders who focus on self-improvement and on truly caring about their team – both as team members and as individuals – will be able to quickly get the team to commit to the mission or the vision. The fact is that people more often commit to the leader first and then to the mission.

This reality confirms that leadership is ultimately a relational process. It is not about the task. It is not about telling or bullying people to do it your way. It is about building strong and mutually beneficial relationships.

Great leaders are great because they build great relationships. These relationships are built on the proactive interest that the leader takes in the members of their team on an individual basis. To be a good leader, be a good servant and a good friend. Meet the specific needs of the people on your team. Believe in their potential. As they grow to their potential, enjoy results that will likely exceed your wildest expectations.
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