From us to others
Stop in, you could win.
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John Maxwell famously said, “Everything rises or falls on leadership.”
I think Maxwell is right. However, I’ve seen leaders make the recurring mistake of keeping themselves at the center of their organization.
In my opinion, organizations centered on a leader eventually implode when the leader fails, disappoints, or moves on. In the US religious organizations may best illustrate this point.
Good leaders receive attention and honor. It may be tempting to bask in honor. However, great leaders shift focus from themselves to others. They leverage their esteem by esteeming others.
The conundrum of leadership is you are at the center in order to put others at the center.
The pull of praise or ego may inflate your self-importance until customers, stakeholders, volunteers, and employees end up in the back seat.
Everything does rise or fall on leadership. Self-centered leaders eventually cause the fall of their organizations. On the other hand, others-centered leaders lift their organizations by encouraging and enabling others.
Shifting focus from you to others
#1. When you feel the need to be understood, understand others.
#2. When you feel the need to be listened to, listen to others.
#3. When you receive praise, share it with others.
I can think of at least three things we can discuss today
#1. What self-centered, egotistical leader story can you share?
#2. How to shift the focus from you to others?
#3. When does shifting the focus on others go too far?
This post is one that I believe needs to be in the core curriculum at all business schools addressing leadership. As for #2 – How to shift the focus – for me it’s quite clear.
Shift the focus always to the goals/outcomes. With that as the focus, a leader can rally all people and efforts.
A story about shifting the focus too much? I once worked with a “leader” who daily said, “I don’t know what’s right. What do you all think?” Chaos reigned in every org. he led. Bad chaos not innovative chaos.
He refused to step forward on anything and he wasn’t leading high level experts. He made the classic mistake: Overlooking the current needs and capabilities of the people he was leading.
Great seeing you and thanks for this wonderful comment.
You remind us not to simply rally around each other but to rally around that which we can give our energies to. So true.
The down side of talking about putting others in the spotlight is exactly what you said. Leaders may become wet noodles with no spine. There is a good side to ego if it’s expressed as you indicate in confidence to aggressively pursue clear mission and vision.
Kate is a featured blogger on Leadership Freak. You can read her bio and find contact information at:
You are completely correct about lifting an organization by encouraging and enabling others.
One Sergeant I had in the Army was going through a personal crisis, a divorce I believe. Regardless, the pressure played out at work by him terrorizing his troops, including me.
I put a stop to it by terrorizing him back.
You can read about the damage and sabotage one person can do to a leader when they put their mind to it here http://bit.ly/asP6nf
P. S. Because of that event, I learned a much better way to win without fighting.
Thanks for your affirmation, your real life story, and for leaving a link for LF readers to enjoy.
You can win without fighting? 😉
Best regards to you,
I would love to answer #1 (about stories to share) but I don’t think the statute of limitations has run out!
One tool that addresses #2 and #3 is some form of 360 evaluation. They are not easy in the sense that it takes a lot of willingness to be open to feedback to take in others’ opinions about you. But, as anyone who has spent even one session in group therapy knows, others’ perceptions of you often differ from your own. Even more so with a leader, the things that you feel are your strengths may sometimes be perceived as weaknesses. You may also be bringing something to the table that you didn’t even realize was considered a “plus” by the people you work with. It can be a valuable tool in helping you shift HOW you focus on others.
Our Executive Director was bemoaning the other day how unfocused staff meetings are, that no one asks questions. He said, “I figure if people took the time to know what’s going on, they would talk about it.” I pointed out that communication across the various levels is often sorely lacking, so their failure to speak up often means that they don’t know what questions to ask, not that they don’t care to learn more. It’s an opportunity for him as a leader to figure out how to help the staff focus on emerging, critical details of our day-to-day life here.
Good choice on #1 🙂
I can see where a 360 could help leaders see if they need to turn the spot light on others. I think the company should clearly state in their values that they embrace an others center style of leadership.
A note on others not talking. I’ve found two reasons why others don’t talk. One, I’m not addressing their interests. And two, I’m not listening. The more I listen the more I find others talk.
Always appreciate your insights,
Paula is a featured blogger on Leadership Freak. I’ve posted a picture and her bio at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/featured-bloggers/
Apple is a prime example of a company centered on the leader. I don’t know too much about their internal culture, but when Steve Jobs was sick, Apple stock took a nose dive. So, even if he may run an others-centered culture internally, to the rest of the world it appears that he IS the company. To your point, what happens when he decides to retire?
Howard Haas, ex-CEO of Sealy Mattress and a Professor at U of C’s Booth School of Business, used to teach in his leadership class that the hubris and arrogance of the leader is usually the root cause of an organization’s failure.
I am particularly thankful for your reference to Howard Haas. It helps that it supports something I was trying to say… 🙂
Thanks for the good examples and adding valuel
Talking amongst ourselves….
#1 Look at history’s ‘villains’ for the most heinous to humanity, then look at recent financial business ‘villains’ (and corporations) who have gone to prison after bilking tens of thousands of their life savings. The rest are actually just big fish in a small pond…there are always bigger ponds and bigger fish. Karma rules.
#2 Honestly, IT isn’t about you. Have yet to see when IT has not been a team effort. Sure maybe one person broke the record, ran the fastest, still that wasn’t done in a vacuum.
Whenever the spotlight heads your way, think of those who have deserved it more in your past or even yesterday and if they are now present, point the light in their direction with a quick ‘thanks and you know there is another person who deserves the credit too’ or ‘the team that really deserves the credit is…’ (Am flashing on Kevin Costner/Tim Robbins lines in Bull Durham) The light is temporary and brief, its more fun to share it, if not in the moment, certainly for future memories.
#3 When it is insincere or over the top to the point of feeling the saccharin spreading all around you turning into a sticky mess. When it is clear there is something on the end of your nose…or if your nose is growing.
As always, love your comment. My only comment to you…
“something on the end or your nose?” >> Somebody pick me up off the floor!
Thanks for regularly giving back to the community.
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Great insight, Dan. From my research, I believe that great leaders love helping the team and team members succeed. Those are really the two key objectives for any leader. Helping the team succeed is accomplishing the mission. Helping the team members succeed is caring for the people.
Love how you’ve provided clarity on the difference between mission and people. Wonderful.
You packed a ton of truth in a small space.
Best to you,
“Maxwell famously said, “Everything rises or falls on leadership.” I think Maxwell is right. However, I’ve seen leaders make the recurring mistake of keeping themselves at the center of their organization.”
Now, THAT’S a great comment!
Not sure who was the originator of this, but I’ve read about the principle of the “mirror and the window”. When something goes wrong, the leader looks in the mirror and accepts responsibility. When something goes right, the leader looks out the window, giving credit to those in the organization.
Easier said than done 🙂
You are always an encourager. Thank you for your comment and quote.
All the best,
I see your point Dan, though I have a slightly different take.
Though others might disagree, I don’t have a problem with short-term runs if the purpose of the organization is really geared for a temporary purpose or one generation life. This of course is not so good if the vision needs to continue on. A founder/leader is often themselves the fertile soil to create the foundation, but can’t be the only source of nutrition for the organization to take off and live on its own. In order for an organization to have a purpose beyond it’s foundation, like a child it has to gain a life of its own.
On the other hand, some things aren’t meant to live on and it really is all about the primary vision of the person who started it all.
It’s like the difference between learning from a dedicated school of music vs. learning directly from a great musician. Both represent leadership scenarios, but one is about continuation of a larger vision and the other is most definitely all about leadership from a single individual which will disappear when they do. In that case, it really is all about them and should be.
I see two basic leadership archetypes. One is an independent pioneering type leader who’s direction is constantly forging new paths across new frontiers. This kind of leadership personality is about the journey and the forging and the direction “out there.” This kind of leader cuts the path to follow, but expects others to be independent too. “I’m going this way. If y’all want to come and help, great. But don’t slow me down, I don’t have time to stop.” This might seem like an “ego” thing, but the focus is direction, not organization. These are the kind of leaders who discover new lands and break ground in new ventures. Once they’ve discovered the mountain, that journey is complete. They don’t set up shop to maintain the mountain, they move on to discover other new things. People come and go along the journey of this leader. It takes another similar type leader to continue the momentum after the original is gone. Goals and visions are more analytical and mental in purpose.
The other leadership type is more about communication, parts creating a whole, creating organization and the responsibility for it. Goals are more physical in nature for long-term sustenance. This type of leader essentially creates structure, like fostering family with parts to play, takes care of it, and nurtures it over time to adulthood. Taking an idea and turning it into a living thing that will continue to serve others beyond his time. Tending a garden; a legacy even. The “family” then carries out the vision long after the creator has moved on and in a sense, the family then becomes/replaces the leader.
These are different, perhaps seemingly opposite leadership types, but I don’t see that either is necessarily better than the other. Humanity needs both. We may lean to one type or the other, or perhaps a combination of the two, but as leadership types, they each play important roles without necessarily negating one or the other. As with all things though, balance.
Thanks for bringing another angle to this discussion. I hadn’t thought about an organization that serves a short term vision nor leaders who might intentionally engage in short term activities.
Best to you,
I thnk where promotion is more rewarding than performance, self-centered leaders gather. Though promotion usually based on performance but not always. There are organsiations, where promotion is based on seniority.In such kind of orgnisation, people are more interested in self interested baviour and do everything to get promotion. For them, everything is fair.And this approach fosters all kind of undesirable and unhealthy practices where potential performers find no place to stay. So it encourages culture clash. And this environment produces self centered or egotistical leader. They know that their survival is not possible anywhere else so, to stick to the particular place becomes best strategy for them.
Now, to shift focus from you to others needs emotional intelligence and strong willpower to overcome your internal resistance. The best way might be role play, case studies and self experience. You have to sensitize yourself, then only you may be able to change your focus.
When people are not sensititve and interested in self development then shifting the focus might not be very helpful. In such case, training and development course related to attitude, behaviour and sociall skills are helpful. They should also be exposed to NGO centre for underpriviledged, poor and needy so that they see and learn to serve others without any benefit.
What an insightful comment. While reading it, you reminded me of a leadership meeting I led where we worked on sentences we could say to volunteers and discussed precise things we could do to show appreciation and honor.
It might sound fake but it wasn’t because the activity comes from a passion to encourage and enable others. Sometimes we need to practice or gain insights from each other on the best ways to do that.
Best to you,
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There’s a great book by Brafman and Beckstrom called “The Starfish and the Spider.” The thesis is that essentially, some organizations rise to prominence despite having no centralized leadership. Everything falls on leadership, but it may rise on its own.
Thanks for thinking otherwise. Love what you do.
Dan this is a great post and as usual the comments are insightful and powerful. I love the Mirror and Window story. I came across a cute comparison which I have shared with my folks on different occasions and some of you may know this but I can’t remember where I read it but it speaks to points 2 and 3. (this is particularly true for physicians who by training and nature are autonomous and struggle working as a team, although the healthcare landscape changes certainly will demand a total shift in mindset) definition of a “bunch” 5 people with 5 basketballs everyone doing their “thing.” definition of a “group”: same 5 people with still 5 basketballs but now following each other down the lane for the layups. Definition of a “team” same five people but now with only ONE basketball having to pass to each other to score points! Message only TEAMS win games! Doc recently asked if I had “contortions” and the answer it is more like “deformities and battle scars” but all for a good cause. Have you ever noticed how physicians as a general rule don’t go for team sports? Golf, cycling, running,skiing, no football, lacrosse, or basketball, baseball or softball. 🙂
Great illustration of Bunch, group, team. It made me think about how a team focuses on one objective. Additionally, they all work independently and together at the same time.
It’s always a pleasure to read your comments. I’m going to use your basket ball illustration.
As a new leader I found myself unable to resist basking in the glory of my achievements, especially as they were few and far between. I felt I needed to do it to build confidence and have something positive I could think about in times when everything seemed to go wrong.
When I feel confident, my people become more confident, hence, I get much more out of them. The focus is now shifted to them.
I’m no expert. I live by what you and other authors impart through your books and blogs to help me with my day to day relationship with the people whose work actually makes a difference. And that is my people.
All the best,
Christine from the UK
Thank you for your comment. I understand completely. It’s great to enjoy the feeling of success. Leaders can’t lead without confidence. I’m glad you brought up this side of the discussion.
I hope to see you again soon.
#3 If too much focus and praise is shifted to a specific “other”, third parties may begin to think that the leader wouldn’t be a leader without this other individual(s). Shifting focus is important in leadership, but can be tricky to do in a small team. It can also be tricky when the leader is a woman. This might be due to a woman’s propensity to share accomplishments & praise with others. Some women leaders have difficulty portraying the confident and self-centered image that is required to avoid being perceived as weak or overly compassionate.
It’s quite true that everything rises or falls on leadership. The rise primarily depends on the quality leadership and the organization that cares for the employees. The leader instils right confidence and faith amongst all ny fair management practices and sharing the profits keeping the staff duly satisfied.
The industry experience reveals the rise and fall of an organization under the the tenure of a CEO and the organization culture built around him.
I have seen a steady rise of an Indian organization which rose from a mere US $ 2 mill. to 800 mill. in a pan of 25 years under the able CMD and 2 MNCs vanishing by an act of acquistion/take over with a stagnated growth.
Leaders are actually the main force behing the success or failure of an organization. Additionally, it’s the good systems and procedures that can assure the long-term future of an organization with sustainability and the desired growth over the years.
It’s quite true that everything rises or falls on leadership. The rise primarily depends on the quality leadership and the organization that cares for the employees. The leader instills right confidence and faith amongst all my fair management practices and sharing the profits keeping the staff duly satisfied.
The industry experience reveals the rise and fall of an organization under the the tenure of a CEO and the organization culture built around him.
I have seen a steady rise of an Indian organization which rose from a mere US $ 2 mill. to 800 mill. in a pan of 25 years under the able CMD and 2 MNCs vanishing by an act of acquisition/take over with a stagnated growth.
Leaders are actually the main force behind the success or failure of an organization. Additionally, it’s the good systems and procedures that can assure the long-term future of an organization with sustainability and the desired growth over the years.