As soon as we are labeled as a “leader”, especially one in the executive suite, there is a very strong tendency to put ourselves on a pedestal. After all, we are on a higher rung on the ladder, right?
If we’re not careful, this “higher level” thinking can also have an effect on how we interact with our teammates. Suddenly, we’re more aloof, more reserved.
“I’m the boss now – I cannot ‘mix it up’ as much with the team. I have to ACT like a leader”
By trying to fit within this assumed expectation of behavior, we can easily take it too far – that is, we can begin to be perceived as “too good” for the rank and file. Somebody who thinks they’re “above” everyone else, figuratively AND literally.
We may not even know this is happening, simply because we believe that this is the way a leader is SUPPOSED to act.
Eventually, we end up scratching our heads because things aren’t working out the way we had hoped. The team isn’t jelling as well as they need to – and morale is no better than “just OK”.
What did we do wrong?
We violated my #1 Cardinal Rule of leadership. The rule that MUST be followed to get to the mountaintop.
Human First, THEN Leader
We have to keep humanity first, before we can truly inspire and lead.
We must treat everyone with respect, and dignity. Nobody is “better” than us. We need to be able to walk into a room, any room, and speak with our staff members without any pretense of “status”.
Sure, eventually those distinctions will become clear, and the bosses must do their jobs and the staff must do theirs, but only after the human connection is made.
We need to know as many staff members names as possible. We need to be interested in their lives, their perspectives, and their motivations. We need to visit their workplaces, and “hang out” with them, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
When we put human first, this all comes naturally, and easily. There’s less tension out there. Staff are much more likely to tell us what’s really going on, because they feel comfortable around us.
They respond more easily and readily to our exhortations to raise the bar, and reach for greatness. They feel like they are not only part of a business team, but a kind of a family.
And something else really special happens when we put human first. To us.
Our leadership becomes a richer and deeper experience – we are more likely to feel like we are part of a cause that is greater than ourselves. We have a much better understanding of the day to day lives of our teammates and staff, and that gives us insights that allow us greater clarity and wisdom as we set policy and implement strategies.
And yes, we love.
I know all this because I was extraordinarily fortunate to be a part of a company and a team where I could be a human first, and then a leader. We achieved great things together, and because of the “family” environment we created, we also had a heck of a lot of fun doing it.
And now that this experience is coming to an end, I am absolutely convinced that following “Rule #1” is an essential part of not only great leadership, but personally fulfilling leadership as well.
This post is dedicated to that team and company. Thank you for teaching me so much. I will forever be grateful.