I must admit I have been hard-pressed to sit down and write something for my blog. A lot of things are going on, a lot of great things and a lot of, well, could be greater things (have to be honest). But I happened on a talk by a well-known (as his bio says) optimist, visionary, and ethnographer. The description of this particular video of his said that “leaders are trusted because they make their people feel safe.” Ok, I partially agreed with that, not knowing the content of his video. My immediate reaction was, no, leaders are trusted because they serve.
Actually, it ended up that he and I were talking about the same thing just saying it in different words. I have always believed that the higher up you go, the more you serve those that report to you. This visionary made a point of saying that “in the military people get medals because they are willing to sacrifice themselves and in corporate people get bonuses because they are willing to sacrifice others.” How often have we seen that in action? Too often I would say. What kind of reaction do you think this type of behavior inspired? Demoralization at the very least.
As the video went on, I did end up agreeing with him; he and I were of the same mind that the way to inspire people to follow and even make sacrifices for you, is that – they know, without a doubt, that you would do the same for them. I am not talking lip-service here but demonstrated sacrifice from a leader.
Recently as well, I was in the midst of discussing coming on board as a coach for a medium-sized company; while talking to one of the partners, I asked what their approach was to getting people to do what they asked (in this case it was attend a company-wide meeting). He said “they are afraid of me.” That really surprised me. I asked him, “would you rather be respected or feared?” Both partners paused and the other said “that is an interesting concept.”
People are inspired when they see someone that can walk their talk, show them the way, take care of them in their capacity as their supervisor, educate them, discipline them when necessary, and provide them with opportunity. In other words, truly serve. The return for this service is service back through trust, exceptional work, and the formation of a team that is not only strong when they stand together but strong even when they are apart because they have seen what it is to be a leader and they are on their way themselves.