Quick, think for a moment about the worst leader you ever worked for.
If you’re like most people, the person who comes to mind was far more preoccupied with themselves than on leading you. They were likely someone who didn’t support you, didn’t seek or value your ideas, and didn’t treat you with respect. They most likely didn’t get the best out of your performance, either. Working for jerky leaders doesn’t do much for one’s motivation and morale.
Having worked with thousands of leaders over the last two decades, I’ve become convinced that leaders who focus more on others have far greater success than those who are self-absorbed. I’ve also seen a natural law at play; the more arrogant a leader is, the more likely it is that he or she will experience a humbling failure. And that’s a good thing.
In my new book, "A Leadership Kick in the Ass," I explain a startling failure can provide a sort of psychological butt-whooping that, while embarrassing, can help a conceited leader to pivot from being preoccupied with himself, to being focused on helping others succeed. I call this critical pivot the Holy Shift!
The Holy Shift involves moving from selfishness to selflessness. Instead of thinking, “How successful can I be?,” the thinking shifts to “What can I do to help them be more successful?”
Instead of treating people as resources who do work for you, you shift to being a resource for them. You begin collaborating with them to set goals. You remove barriers to their performance. You provide skill-stretching assignments and training opportunities. You give them air cover when pressure comes down from above.
Instead of acting as a cop who enforces rules, watches for violations, and punishes noncompliance, you become a coach who invests time in their development, draws out a higher level of performance, and helps them take pride in their work. Often, it takes an upsetting failure to startle a leader out of any rosy leadership delusions and help him evolve past being interested in himself to being much more interested in the people he is fortunate to lead.
The idea is for you, as a leader, to serve those you’re leading by putting your leadership influence to work for them. By “serve” I don’t mean like a white-gloved butler who is careful not to disturb people as he adjusts their lobster bibs. I mean taking intentional, deliberate, and assertive action for the good of others. Success as a leader is contingent on bettering the lives and careers of the people you are leading.
Leadership, in other words, is not about you; it’s about them. Getting over yourself is a must. With the Holy Shift, another natural law is at work; the less focused on yourself you are, the better you’ll get as a leader.
The fastest way to great results is taking a genuine and active interest in helping others succeed. When you focus on using your leadership for the good of others, you take a genuine interest in getting to know their needs, goals, aspirations, and gifts. You start helping people build skills, confidence, and self-reliance so they can add more value to the company and their careers. When the Holy Shift has truly taken hold, you become an aggressive champion, builder, and developer of others.
As C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”
Bill Treasurer is the author of four books, including "A Leadership Kick in the Ass," which focuses on the importance of humility, goodness, and redemption. For over two decades, Bill has worked with thousands of emerging and experienced leaders to strengthen their leadership impact.
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