If you only internalize one lesson about leadership, make this the one. A basic understanding that you need your people more than they need you is the single most important leadership lesson you will ever learn. Why? Because until you get this—and I mean really make this principle part of your heart and soul—you can’t really lead. No exceptions.
I ran head on into this principle as a young manager the day I was promoted to manager. On my new team were an assistant manager and five route sales representatives. My RSRs drove delivery trucks around the area and delivered our products and services to customers. Prior to my promotion, the regional office had conducted a sales contest, the reward for which was a cruise to the Bahamas for all qualifiers. All of the RSRs on my team qualified for the trip except my assistant manager.
For some reason the management team had made no arrangements to cover the routes while the RSRs were on the trip. So during my first week in charge, five members of my team went to the Bahamas, and for three days my assistant manager and I tried to fill those shoes. It stands today as the worst experience of my entire career. It was beyond miserable. Apart from it being impossible for two people to run five routes, we had no relationships with the customers, we didn’t understand the geography, and we were slow because we didn’t know how to do the job.
When our tanned and rested RSRs returned, I was ready to hug them. I had a new and deep appreciation of the role they played in our organization and was humbled to realize that, even though I had manager on my business card, I was unable to do their job proficiently. There was no doubt in my mind that I needed them far more than they needed me.
Who Is More Important: You or Your People?
Consider this. It is Monday morning. You get to the office early, ready to start the day. As soon as you sit down at your desk, the phone rings. Mary, one of your sales reps, calls in to say she is going to be out sick today. A few minutes later Ralph calls to remind you he will be on vacation. Then Ernie calls to say a relative died and he needs to fly to Cleveland to go to the funeral. One after another the calls come in, until suddenly you find yourself alone in the office; no one is coming in today. How would you fare?
Most managers when faced with this question answer that they would probably make it through Monday okay. So we follow that up with Tuesday—you show up but no one else does – how will you fare? How about Wednesday and Thursday? What if you came in each morning but the people who worked for you did not. How would you be doing by Friday? You know the answer and so do I. Your business would be in shambles, and you would be miserable.
But what if on Monday morning all of your people showed up to work and you didn’t? Would things get done? Would sales happen? Would customers be served? Absolutely. The fact is, even if you went on a two-week vacation, and all of your people showed up each day, things would likely be just fine. The work would get done.
In Leadership Character Trumps Competence
One of the core traits of ineffective leaders and bad bosses is that they believe that they are more important than their people. These bosses range from the arrogantly self-centered to workaholics to micromanagers. These bosses believe, at the core, that they are smarter and more competent than the people working for them.
Should you be the best you can be, as smart as you can be, set high goals, invest in your skills, learn, set a vision for your organization, develop strategy, hold people accountable, and build process and systems? Of course you should. All of this and more is important to reaching your potential as a leader. But competence in these areas will only take you so far.
Poor leaders are quite often extremely competent and accomplished people—educated, talented, disciplined, and yet arrogantly self-centered, falsely believing that because they are so talented people and organizations simply cannot function without them. In their arrogance they soon develop a sense of entitlement that generally results in treating those around them like expendable commodities.
This is why character and humility are essential elements of leadership effectiveness. Humility is the mother of openness, listening, authenticity, likeability, kindness, and wisdom. Humility is a direct reflection of your character and discipline as a leader because, unlike the talents you were born with, humility is a trait you must internalize and work at daily. Why?
You’ve achieved a leadership position because you are talented, smart, goal-oriented, ambitious, and driven to achieve. You hold yourself to a higher standard than most people. You are willing to work harder and longer hours and willing to do anything it takes to climb to the top of the ladder. From where you sit it is easy to look down at all of the people who may not have your talent and are unwilling to make the same sacrifices as you, and see them as inferior. It is easy to say to yourself, “I don’t need these people, they need me!”
Although it may be natural to feel this way, leaders who have developed character and humility have the discipline to fight this insidious arrogance and put aside their self-centered need to feel important in order to better serve their people. They operate with a first-will-be-last belief system. They recognize the cold hard facts – leaders need their people, more than their people need them – and they do whatever it takes to help their people become more successful.
Jeb Blount advises many of the world’s leading organizations and their executives on the impact of emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills on customer experience, strategic account management, sales, and developing high-performing sales teams. He speaks to and delivers training to high-performing sales teams across the globe. He was recently named one of the world’s 50 Most Influential Sales and Marketing Leaders and is the author of six books including People Follow You: The Real Secret to what Matters Most in Leadership. Contact Jeb at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 1-888-360-2249 or visit http://jeb.salesgravy.com