What makes a great leader?
What makes a leader great? Well first, let’s look at what it means to be a leader. There are many definitions on the web, but I’ll use this from Forbes: “Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximises the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” What this definition highlights is that leadership involves social influence, not power or authority and that the influence of the leader is to get the most out of those he/she is leading. Notice what this definition does not mention? Money. Or profit. Or success. Why? Because obtaining any of those does not equate to being a good leader. Making a difference does.
If you look at any long-term successful business, you’ll notice that they all have one thing in common: they all care about people. They care about their staff, they care about their customers, and they care about maximising those relationships. Because when you take care of your staff, the staff will take care of your business. And I don’t mean take care of them financially, because money isn’t the most valuable asset you possess. Giving a shit is.
When it comes to the people I remember serving, do you think I remember those that tipped me? Because I don’t. You could leave $0.05 or you could leave $500 and I can almost guarantee I won’t remember who you are the next time you come in. The people I will remember though? Those that gave a shit. Those that took their time to have a conversation, to ask me something about myself, and sometimes who even proceeded to follow up with future contact about something we discussed. For bosses wanting to reward their staff, is there something you can offer that isn’t monetary? Something that might perhaps be perceived as being more valuable? What do you think your staff will remember more, how much they got paid or how you made them feel?
I understand the world revolves around money. But is money the most important thing? Everyone, everywhere is always asking for more money. Companies, not-for-profit organisations, sporting clubs, charities, government. Money is a quick fix. But it’s also not even a fix. Because no matter how much money an organisation has, I can confidently predict that they’ll still ask for more. Why? Because it’s human nature. We’re always asking for more. What these companies need though, is an alternative mindset. How can we still have an effect with the resources we have? How can we sell our why with where we are? If companies started focusing on the micro, they would be able to affect the macro. Unfortunately though, people often get caught up in what they want to have, what they want to build, that they lose sight on why they’re doing it in the first place.
A few weeks ago I was looking into how I can become more involved with mental health organisations and ultimately become a mental health advocate. I feel passionately about speaking openly to people about mental illness. But what I found on almost all of these websites is that their “get involved” pages asked for one thing: donations. What do I believe they need? People. They need people, volunteers ideally, willing to spread the message. They need people on the ground level having these conversations WHERE THEY ARE with WHAT THEY HAVE. But instead these organisations, much like many others, are more concerned with the macro than on the micro. More concerned with money, than people. Money can buy some things, but it can’t buy influence.
I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of the aforementioned mindset too – for months I was caught up in how much others were getting paid for soccer compared to what I was making. It wasn’t until I stopped to ask myself: how much money do you need to live the life you want to live? What would that money offer you that you don’t already have right now? Perhaps a newer car, a bigger house, more financial “security”? But will any of that add value to your life? Will it make you kinder? More generous? More peaceful? More connected? More humble? Or will it only feed that self-serving ego that is never satisfied with what is and is constantly striving for more? More of things that aren’t meaningful?
If you doubt what I’m saying, I challenge you to do this exercise. Write down a list of the happiest moments of your life and identify any common themes. How many of those moments, if any, required large amounts of money? When I was asked to do this exercise six weeks ago, in attempt to help me better understand my purpose, I discovered this: hardly any of my happiest moments revolved around the one thing I was most passionate about: soccer. Hardly any revolved around winning, either. What did all of them possess though? Other people. And the catch? None of them cost money. All of the happiest moments in my life occurred during seemingly insignificant, inexpensive moments when I, and the other person, were completely and vulnerably, ourselves.
And that, I believe, is an extremely important asset of being a leader: vulnerability. In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team the first dysfunction originates from an absence of trust. And the solution? Being vulnerable. Vulnerability makes you human. As does accountability. And both of those aid in you being relatable. And relatability helps in making people feel like you give a shit because at the end of the day, how can you give a shit about people you don’t understand?
So when it comes to being a leader, it’s important to understand that what you stand for matters more than what you do. Are you more concerned with profits or people? Are you dividing or are you uniting? Are you making money or are you making a difference? Because from my observations and informal studying, the latter precedes the former. Care about your people and they’ll care about you. What people can achieve together surpasses what any individual can achieve alone. It is thus, the role of a leader to do just that: unify individuals to achieve more. Right now, we can all be leaders. Where we are. And with what we have. Leading doesn’t require much more than simply giving a shit about others. So now I ask you: how are you choosing to lead?