There comes a time in a more human leadership journey where something radically changes. The focus of our effort makes a major progression forward that, once accomplished, propels us to greatness.
On the other hand, if this progression is NOT made, we’ll be doomed to mediocrity or outright failure.
And, I can assure you, this is something that is applicable all generations, from a baby boomer like me to the millennials now stepping up into leadership roles.
What is this progression? It can be summed up with simple little pronouns.
Great leaders need to progress from “I” to “We”.
This happens when it stops being about you – personal ambition and ego take a back seat to the greater good, and the burning desire becomes the success of the team, AND the welfare of the team.
I vividly remember when I finally made this jump, back in 2003 – it was not long after I’d been turned down for a big promotion to the executive suite. I’d been wanting this promotion for several years, and worked hard to position myself for it.
I wanted to really prove myself. It was my time. It was what I wanted. I was going to show everybody what a great leader I was (or better said, thought I was), and play a significant role in getting the company to the financial finish line, and the big payout. The chip on my shoulder was pretty darn big.
Getting passed over actually turned out to be a blessing for me, because my “consolation prize” was being assigned a field leadership role over 700 people (which would later grow to over 1,100).
It didn’t seem like a blessing at the time, because these employees weren’t very happy, owing to many previous years of mis-management, broken promises, and mistrust, and we were under a lot of pressure to produce results quickly. And to top it all off, I was still licking my wounds from my lost promotion.
But all it took was a couple of road trips to change everything.
I decided to go out to the field, and just listen and gather information. I’d schedule 8AM meetings with burnt coffee and stale donuts and ask a lot of questions. It was in those meetings that I began to feel less about my issues, my ambitions, and my problems, and more about their simple collective desire to have a good reason to get out of bed every morning and connect with something more meaningful.
They wanted to be respected and trusted.
And in looking into all of their eyes and hearing this over and over again, I felt a strong need to get them what they wanted. It wasn’t my head leading me from “I” to “We” – it was my heart.
I felt like I was being called to lead a cause to bring us all to what I later realized was the “success trifecta” – a successful company, a happy team, and a fulfilled leader.
From then on, the “we” reigned. Because it just wasn’t going to be great unless all of us got to the finish line, together. Luckily, we did, seven years later.
And by the way, the “I” doesn’t disappear, nor should it – let’s just say it becomes the second banana to a much stronger lead.
Leaders, answer the call and make your journey from “I” to “We”- it’s one of the 8 Principles of More Human Leadership.