The Key Element of Leadership

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I have called this meeting to share something important with you. I made a mistake as a leader, and I want to apologize. I humbly ask that you would forgive me for not focusing on what’s most important in this organization. I want to be better, and ask that you would help me become a better leader for this team.” Have you ever sat through a meeting like this? How would you feel if you were an employee of a company whose leadership responded to mistakes like this? 

We have a major problem in today’s society. I have noticed that people in leadership view humility as weakness. This thinking is absolutely wrong. Humility is a source of strength and one of the most important elements in leadership. If you do a quick Google search for quotes on humility, you will find many great men express the need and importance of humility. One of my favorites is from Thomas Merton, “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” When leadership allows for their humanity to show through, those who follow will have more respect in their leadership abilities. Humility is a characteristic that shows strength and a willingness to become better.

John Dalberg-Action said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This has been proven time and time again throughout history. The purpose of this quote is to express that people who hold power over things or others ultimately become corrupt. However, there is a way to withstand corruption, and the answer lies in humility. Humility is what separates successful leaders from failing ones. When we choose to not hold ourselves accountable for our actions and choices, we have made the decision that we are infallible and eventually lie to ourselves to make excuses for our actions. Humility is the key element to strong, honest leadership. 

Humility is not just owning our mistakes and failures. It is also about how we see and treat others. One of my favorite authors and speakers on the subject of leadership, Simon Sinek, once stated, “Humility, I have learned, must never be confused with meekness. Humility is being open to the ideas of others.” When we welcome the ideas and perspectives of others, and openly accept them, we are showing those around us that they matter. Leadership should never be about being the smartest person in the room. In fact, strong leadership gives credit and admiration where it is due. Leadership is not about being in the limelight, but rather putting others in the limelight who deserve to be there.

A large piece in the foundation of leadership is admitting to faults, mistakes, and errors. Humility is what allows others to trust and believe those in leadership. Treating others with respect, and valuing their opinions and perspective, promotes community and builds a lasting organization. Humility is not a weakness, and it is not something that should be feared. Humility is a characteristic that should be a staple in all leaders.

The Power Of Perspectives In Leadership

Earnest Hemingway once said, “When people talk, listen completely.” This must be one of the cornerstones to leadership. Leaders who listen to those they lead will grow strong, successful organizations and businesses. There is great power in encouraging and listening to multiple perspectives as a leader. Leadership that listens completely to what people on their team are saying, will create an environment of respect and stability. A team is only as good as their weakest member. A leader who closes their minds to others’ perspectives, thoughts, and concerns, and chooses to not listen completely runs the risk of being the weakest member. 

The success of an organization or business can easily be determined by who leadership chooses to surround themselves with. Mark Ambrose once stated, “Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you your future.” Who we associate with and allow into our circle of influence will have a significant impact on our success. American entrepreneur and author, Jim Rohn, said, “You become like the five people you spend the most time with. Choose carefully.” Leaders must choose carefully who they spend time with, who they listen to, and who they are influenced by. Leaders must choose carefully who they surround themselves with. However, this is where I might become a little more unconventional.

I do not believe leaders should surround themselves with conformists. Another term for these people would be, “Yes Men.” If leadership is surrounded by individuals who constantly say, “Okay” or “Yes”, without questioning motives, purpose, and direction, then leadership is at risk of running the ship aground. Strong, effective leadership keeps an open mind, welcomes questions and concerns, and allows the freedom of all individuals to express opinions, ideas, and thoughts about motives, purpose, and direction. Any organization or business that closes the door to others’ thinking or perspectives, is an organization or business that will not last.

It is crucial that leadership listens and takes heed to multiple perspectives. I have personally found that a plan can be missing multiple details and considerations, and without allowing others to share their opinions and thoughts about the plan, the plan might not have been successful. Leadership should surround themselves with people who are willing to share their thoughts and ideas freely and openly. Leadership should also keep an open mind and listen intently to all perspectives.

Eric Sheninger, a school principal, said it well when he said, “Effective leaders rely on the expertise of others regardless of where they are in the organizational hierarchy.” Smart, effective leaders are ones who allow others to be smarter than them, listens to wisdom and council regardless of position or age, and actively listens to their team. Perspective is everything. And when we deny the opportunity for others to share their perspectives, we close our minds to opportunity, wisdom, and possibly success. Lead in a way that welcomes the perspectives of those you lead. 

Leadership Is A Way of Life

John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”  I truly believe this should be the foundation for all leadership. I also believe this should quickly be followed with, “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another” (John C. Maxwell). I truly believe leadership is about listening, learning, and lifting others up. This is why leadership is not a position one holds, but rather a way of life. It is a person who others would follow naturally, not because of a title.

People who feel valued and respected will follow leadership wholeheartedly. The question then becomes, how does leadership help others feel valued and respected? I believe value and respect should be one in the same. For example, I value my wife, and because I value her, I will do everything I can to show her respect by how I treat her. Value and respect are shown by how we treat something or someone. Consider the following: You buy a new car. You have high expectations about eating in the car, tracking mud in the car, and how others treat your car. You might even decide that you will park 3 or 4 spaces down from other cars so that you do not risk getting a ding on the side. Ultimately, you value your car and want to respect it because of its newness. But what happens after a while? The newness wears off, and your respect for the car also wears off. In fact, you might think it’s time for another new car. There are many examples I could use, but the point is, when something is new, we respect and value it more, but as time wears on, our respect and value seem to diminish. 

Because respect and value diminish over time, it is vital that leadership is in a constant state of reflection. Leadership is not perfect by any means, and people in leadership make plenty of mistakes, but it is what we do with our mistakes that determines our character as a leader. Another one of my favorite quotes relates very well with this, “Learning without reflection is a waste. Reflection without learning is dangerous” (Confucious). In other words, we must always be in a state of reflection and be willing to learn from mistakes and errors. Learning is the process of trying and failing over and over to reach a desired goal. Notice, learning is a process. This is why “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”  Leadership will not get it right on the first try, and if they do, it is a rare event. However, true leadership will reflect on choices and decisions, determine what was done well and what wasn’t, and then make changes to their way of thinking, their attitude, and their mindset. Afterall, leadership is the example everyone is looking at. 

Did you catch the important piece of leadership that I mentioned above? Leadership makes changes…to THEIR way of thinking, THEIR attitude, and THEIR mindset. You see, leadership is not about forcing others to think and believe the same way they do. That way of thinking is dangerous. If you don’t believe me, check out the German leader of WWII, or the tyrant king of England between 1760 and 1776. Leadership must constantly have an open mind, be willing to listen to those they are leading, and most importantly, be humble enough to admit fault and wrong doing. I believe this is part of showing value and respect to others. Nobody likes or respects someone who thinks they are always right. Nobody listens to someone who won’t listen to them. Nobody will follow a leader who is unwilling to admit mistakes, take responsibility, and make changes to correct THEIR behavior. Leadership is not a position, it is a way of life.

Ultimately, leadership is about how we treat others. Are we willing to listen with an open mind? Are we willing to humbly admit faults and mistakes? Are we willing to learn from our faults and failures and make changes to OUR way of thinking and living? Do we see ourselves as someone who must be followed, or someone who is ready to serve and help others? Leadership is a direct reflection of your character. As you lead, determine what kind of character you are leading with.

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