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.
We start to say to ourselves “I’m the boss now – I cannot ‘mix it up’ as much with the team. I have to ACT like a leader”
But by trying to fit within this assumed expectation of behavior, we can easily take it too far – that is, we start being 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 naively 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 (and only) Golden 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 a pecking order, or differences in status because of a job description.
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 teammates’ names as possible. We need to be beyond just casually 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. We need to know everyone matters.
When we put (more) 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. Because you’ve connected at such a personal level, when you then stand up and ask for a culture of accountability, and then explain that it’s necessary to not only make the company profitable, but to make them happy and fulfilled as employees, they’ll trust you, and follow along.
In other words, and this is super critical, putting human first doesn’t mean being more lenient. It means that you are absolutely and positively fair in how you lead.
And lastly, something else really special happens when we put human first. Something happens 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’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to be a part of companies and teams where I could follow the only Golden Rule and be a human first, and then a leader. We achieved (and are achieving) great things together, and because of the “family” environment we created, we’re having a heck of a lot of fun doing it.
This post is dedicated to those past and current teams, and the fine fellow humans I’ve had the honor and privilege to serve. Thank you for teaching me so much. I will forever be grateful.
(Photo by Bigstock)