A History Lesson About Selfless Leadership
The evolution of a leader is constant. A Harvard Business Review (HBR) Blog pulls its example of great leadership from the history books; George Washington was thought of as the “father of his country” even during his lifetime, and he was a fantastic leader during his role as Commander and Chief. What made him such a great leader? Washington was both inspiring and selfless. It is said that he didn’t ask the members of his army to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself. If they were cold, he was cold. If they were hungry, he went hungry. If they were uncomfortable, he too chose to experience the same discomfort. His leadership style teaches us that being a leader isn’t about driving, directing, or coercing; it’s about compelling your team to join you in pushing into new areas and continuing to evolve. It is motivating those around you to share your enthusiasm for pursuing a joint ideal, objective or cause. Leadership isn’t about exercising power over people, but rather, finding effective ways to work with people. According to HBR blogger John Michel, “the most effective form of leadership is supportive. It is collaborative. It is never assigning a task, role or function to another that we ourselves would not be willing to perform. For all practical purposes, leading well is as simple as remembering to remain others-centered instead of self-centered.”
To do this, Michel shares 4 tips:
Listen to other people’s ideas, no matter how different they may be from your own: There’s ample evidence that the most imaginative and valuable ideas tend not to come from the top of an organization, but from within an organization. Be open to others opinions; what you hear may make the difference between merely being good and ultimately becoming great.
Embrace and promote a spirit of selfless service: People, be it employees, customers, constituents, or colleagues, are quick to figure out which leaders are truly dedicated to helping them succeed and which are only interested in promoting themselves at others’ expense. Be willing to put others’ legitimate needs and desires first and trust that they will freely give you the best they have to give.
Ask great questions: The most effective leaders know they don’t have all the answers. Instead, they constantly welcome and seek out new knowledge and insist on tapping into the curiosity and imaginations of those around them. Take it from Albert Einstein: “I have no special talent,” he claimed. “I am only passionately curious.” Be inquisitive. Help tap others’ hidden genius, one wise question and courageous conversation at a time.
Don’t fall prey to your own publicity: Spin and sensationalism is an attractive angle to take in today’s self-promoting society. Yet the more we get accustomed to seeking affirmation or basking in the glow of others’ praise and adulation, the more it dilutes our objectivity, diminishes our focus, and sets us up to believe others are put in our path to serve our needs. Be careful not to become prideful; it will only set you up for a fall.
As you examine your own leadership qualities, try making a personal leadership checklist to assess whether you are leading selflessly. Do you truly listen to those around you and help foster a culture of collaboration in the workplace? Check in regularly with your team members or coworkers as you continue to evolve in your leadership role.