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Have you found yourself searching for the root cause of a poor-performing team with no clear indication of the problem? Do team members seem to provide you with only positive insights and withhold any critical feedback? Are people overly cautious about speaking up in meetings?
These may be the signs of reevaluating your leadership style and embracing an others-first mentality. If you can adjust your perspective, trust yourself and your team to take intelligent risks, listen and most importantly, put yourself in a position to support your teams, you can become the type of humble, curious and focused leader that inspires people to bring their best selves to the workplace.
There’s been a lot of talk about the growth of narcissism in the business world. I don’t know if it’s the ‘look at me’ aspect of social media or inflated expectations from years of self-esteem programs. But I know it won’t help us do our best work. If we really want our teams to succeed, we need to take an approach I call “unself yourself.”
I first had this point driven home to me at the age of 10. I was having a big birthday party for hitting double digits, but my friends were having more fun playing keep-away with a beach ball while I felt left out. In my 10-year-old, ego-centric view, this was a problem on my special day. So, I took the beach ball and hid it in the bathroom.
My father was not happy. He was an entrepreneur, having started one of the first time-management and organization companies, eventually purchased by the organization best known as Franklin Covey. On that day, he told me that I was being rude and selfish. He explained that the party wasn’t about me — even though it was my birthday — but that as the party’s host, my role was to serve my guests first, telling me, “I’m asking you to be alone for a while because it’s important for you to know selfish people end up all alone.”
The lesson stuck with me. In today’s world, how CEOs view their impact on their teams’ growth and success is changing, making it even more critical for leaders to develop their leadership philosophy and learn how to grow and evolve it. Empathy, humility and keeping an open mind are skills that few executives learned in business school, but these are the ones that have brought me the most success.
This principle revolves around the idea that a leader’s primary role is to think about what their employees need and how they can support their growth and success. You may see this called “servant leadership,” the show “Ted Lasso” has showcased this approach. But you need to think about what your employees are experiencing and how a particular decision may affect them.
Helping others up has a much more powerful impact than focusing solely on the fiscals and requires treating people how you would like to be treated. When you read stories about CEOs bungling layoff announcements or similar bad news, it’s probably because they didn’t put themselves in their employee’s shoes before hitting send. But thinking about how a message will land will make your communications more effective.
You can also call this ‘humility’ — the idea that the strategies you’ve used all your life may not work anymore. Or there’s a critical factor you hadn’t even considered. Part of unselfing yourself is accepting that you may not be the smartest person in the room (and if you’ve hired well, you aren’t!).
I spend about 30% of my time on employee engagement because happy employees are essential to our success. It’s also very helpful to hear directly from line employees what challenges they have and ideas they have to improve the company.
Too many leaders just focus on what they have to say or what they’ll say next instead of focusing on active listening. If you’re doing all the talking, it broadcasts to everyone else that you don’t care what they have to say (‘smartest person’ again). In your next team meeting, try participating by only asking questions. It will be a struggle at first, but it will change how you think about your team and how they think about you. You can still give the ‘last word’ at the end of the meeting, but one of the first questions to ask is, “How can I help?”
As a leader, you can reach your maximum potential by focusing on benefiting others. You will get the best impact from your team when you prioritize their growth and happiness – the business results will follow. Successful companies have a culture of happy and productive employees. Not to get too “Ted Lasso” again, but you’ll be happier when you see everyone else happy at work.
As a CEO, I’ve seen how this single value differentiates top performers from average ones. Leaders with an “others first” mentality will always drive more allegiance than a CEO only focused on their personal scorecard of power, compensation or the bottom line.
Selfless leaders are rare, and committing to this approach isn’t easy. But this is one area of leadership that will improve your leadership skills and set a great example to model for any employees that grew up focusing on their success. It may be tough to shift from ‘having all the answers’ to ‘asking all the questions,’ but your team will sense the change and help discover that good leadership starts by remembering, “It’s not about you.”