Row The Boat

“It’s as simple as this. When people don’t unload their opinions and feel like they’ve been listened to, they won’t really get on board” (Patrick Lencioni). When leadership decides to run a crew, an organization, a business, or what have you, without openly being willing to have open dialogue and conversation with those they lead, there is very little chance that those individuals will trust leadership, work for that leadership, or most importantly, be willing to get on the boat. Teamwork is not leadership telling people what to do, but rather giving people a goal and vision to believe in. Simon Sinek said it best when he said, “Great leaders give everyone something to believe in, not something to do.” 

Leadership expects teamwork, but many individuals in leadership don’t understand that teamwork also involves the leader. You see, leaders want teamwork in their organization, but few leaders are actual team players. Being a team player means you are willing to listen to the team, as a whole and individually, be willing to have difficult conversations, admit you are wrong and make a genuine effort to change their ways, actively listen to other team members by getting input from multiple perspectives, and doing what is best for the team, not what is best for you. Leaders often forget that leadership has nothing to do with a title, but how they treat the people they lead. If leaders don’t actively pursue those they lead, invite conversations and opinions to be shared in group settings, listen openly and willing, and genuinely reflect on what is said, then leaders aren’t leading; they are hindering. 

The moment leadership thinks themselves higher, more important, or better than their team, the destruction of that group and organization has started. As Patrick Lencioni said, “Ego is the ultimate killer of a team.” As I stated earlier, leadership is not about titles, it’s about how leaders treat those they lead. When leaders think their position makes them better than those on the team, they have lost all perspective of effective leadership. Humility is the antidote to ego centered leadership. “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real” (Thomas Merton). If you find yourself saying “I” a lot in meetings, then destruction and collapse is on the way. “I” has no place in teamwork. “I” is for dictators and selfish, egocentric leaders. To change this, leaders need to start using “We” and “You”, for these are words that empower, encourage participation, and take the ego out of leadership. A team is “We”, not an “I”. 

“Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable – and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities” (Peter Nulty). I always circle back to listening, as I feel it is the most critical component to leadership. Listening doesn’t mean hearing, (I wrote about this in a past post, and I encourage you to read it) listening means being vulnerable. Listening also means listening to the conversation happening within your organization by those you lead. Listening means you are giving people the opportunity to share ideas, concerns, thoughts, etc. in an environment that is open and safe. It means allowing people to have conversations within the group without you needing to say anything. Leadership and listening go hand in hand. 

I titled this blog “Row The Boat” because leadership does not sit on the side expecting everyone else to row. Leadership is in the midst of the team, having those difficult conversations and providing opportunities for the team to dialogue and communicate with each other. Leadership does not tell people to row the boat, they row alongside them. However, without a clear vision and goal, rowing the boat doesn’t matter. It is the leadership’s responsibility to provide a clear vision and goal, otherwise, it doesn’t matter who rows the boat, eventually, people will stop rowing due to not having a destination to row to. If you want the boat to row, get in the boat and help the team row. If you want the team to row passionately, provide the team with a vision and goal that is clear and precise. If you want to be an effective leader, humble yourself and listen to everyone on the team. A team is only as strong as its weakest link, and leadership should not be the weakest link.

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