What is the Basis of All Leadership?

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A widespread leadership problem is that leaders tend to see the the problem as the problem. The truth is that the problem is seldom the problem. The problem is like a fever; it is a symptom of a problem. Just as a fever is a signal that something is wrong in your body, a problem with your team’s production can usually be traced to a problem with leadership. I know that hurts, but what we are looking for is truthful answers that will solve problems. Answers that really work; that enable accomplishment.

Perhaps, by the standards that you have set for yourself, you think that you’re doing a great job of leading. Perhaps you’ve made the common innocent mistake of setting standards that are good, but area little off target. Probably, your methods, or specific policies don’t resonate with your people. There is the problem, my friend. You have every good motive, you treat your people pretty well, you don’t ask too much and they are decently paid. Even so, if your ways don’t resonate with your people you will probably get mediocre results. How can you fix this seemingly complex situation?

The answer is simple, although I can’t categorically say it is easy. Remember that people do not value things that come cheaply or easily, and you are probably not an exception to that rule. Very few are.

Before I give the answer, let’s think for a moment about what you, as a leader are trying to accomplish. Isn’t it that you are trying to influence your followers to cooperate with you? That’s leadership in a nutshell.

The Answer Is:

Example. Your example. You must model the attitude and behavior that you want from your people, and you must do it well. Let me give you an example (pun intended).

Albert Zweitzer, a famous influencer of people who lived from 1875-Sweitzer1965 said:

Example is not the main thing in influence, it is the only thing.

That is what Sweitzer said. Now the question becomes “What did he do?” He made a lot of money through plenty of hard work. He won the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his book Reverence for All Life. He then went on to found a hospital, with his own money, in Lambaréné in Gabon (Central Africa). The hospital was a massive endeavor, sufficient to care for 500 patients at one time. Not only did he found the hospital, but he served as a doctor and surgeon, groundskeeper, guide for visitors and numerous other roles in the administration of the hospital.

Do you see the example this prominent man set? Not only was he a renowned musician, author, medical doctor and philosopher; he was also a leader of people. As groundskeeper for his hospital, he demonstrated that he was not just a boss who lived in the safety of an ivory tower. He presented himself as a fellow human being, living in common with all other humans and life forms on the earth. Pretty strong example, huh?

You and I may not set the extreme example of Albert Sweitzer, but we must set the example that we want others to follow; in our homes, in our businesses, on our jobs, in social settings. Anytime we want to influence others to cooperate with us, we must set the example.

When I was a leadership instructor at the Montana Military Academy, it was typical for our fellow non-commissioned officers and students for the next two weeks to arrive looking and acting more like 1960’s hippies than soldiers. Now, to look like a hippie when you ARE a hippie is fine, but it just doesn’t work for the good of military. This needed to be corrected.

This is a long story that I need to make short: The other instructors and I solved the problem, not by barking orders and growling at these soldiers. We simply conducted a personnel inspection and clearly explained to each man what he needed to correct in order to receive the rewards he wanted; social acceptance and graduation from the course. But, before the inspection, we modeled the appearance we wanted.

At the end of the course, many of the students were as sharp as we instructors. They wrote anonymous  critiques of the course. Overall their critiques stated clearly that they were impressed with our appearances when they arrived, some said they were shocked and scared that they couldn’t be successful. Almost every one of them said that the example of the instructors motivated them to take this course seriously, and to meet the standard demonstrated by the instructors. One of our classes was so fully transformed that we instructors pooled some of our money and hired a team of Scottish bag-pipers to play and lead their graduation parade at the awards ceremony. It was a very rewarding and touching moment.

How did we set that example and what was the cost to us? That’s a story for another post. I’ve taken up enough of your time and given you enough to work on for now.

In general summary, leaders are the first ones to sacrifice themselves for the accomplishment of the mission or task. Leaders are the folks who use their energy to “prime the pump” to get the team out of its collective comfort zone and on task. This is why good leaders are the first ones to arrive, usually the last to leave, the last to partake of the reward; however, unbeknownst to his or her followers, the leader is actually the first to partake of the reward of the satisfaction of the successful accomplishment of the team. The leader receives that reward of satisfaction, then has the privilege of “officially” announcing the success of the win to the team.

Then, when the success is announced, the team members are happy and say “We did all ourselves.” The leader smiles, then uses the momentum of that success to help them “do it all themselves” on the next project.

I cannot say that I agree with Sweitzer on every point, but on the point  of setting the example you want others to follow, I definitely agree with him. For leaders, his is an example worth following.

Have you got a story to share about either setting or following an example that produced either good or bad results?

Do you have something to add that I may have overlooked, or didn’t have space to include?

How about a question about your leadership challenges?

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