This past week I was reminded of the unrivaled value of strong leadership and mentorship, and their power to enact positive change. Over the past 20+ years, I have had the honor to lead all types of people, groups, and organizations. Some have been great, and some, well you know, not so great. But, there is one principle I have learned as a leader: It’s not about me. It’s about those that I lead.
Now let me be perfectly honest, I am not an expert at this. I still am challenged weekly and daily to walk the talk. Sometimes I do really good, and sometimes, not so good. I have had several conversations over the past several weeks where this fact has resonated with me more than ever. Tom Peters states, “Leaders do not create followers, they create more leaders.”
Over the past five years, I have evolved professionally and personally as a mentee to one of the greatest leaders in my life. I have watched this leader constantly challenge people to go beyond what they thought was possible. In fact, I am one of those people. This leader challenged me to take a risk – and I did. I have never looked back. Not only did he create another leader, but a follower and disciple of the principle; it’s not about me.
This past week I sat with this leader as he mentored one of my colleagues. He said, “Think about what is possible, but then go do the impossible.” He then asked the colleague, “If you could create your dream job, what would it be?” He also asked the colleague, “What do you really want to do?”
These are the same questions this leader asked me years ago, and ones that he still asks of me today. I am constantly challenged to grow beyond what I think is possible, and evolve into someone greater. My hope is that when I move on from this life, people will look at me as one who created opportunities, challenged people, and cultivated leaders.
This leader has also taught me to let go and allow others to do their jobs. I may not always agree with how the job is done – and therein lies one of my greatest challenges – to remember that it’s not about me, but about them.
What does this all this mean? Jack Welch put it best when he said: “The day you become a leader, it becomes about them. Your job is to walk around with a can of water in one hand and a can of fertilizer in the other hand. Think of your team as seeds and try to build a garden.”
Brent Gleeson in Forbes wrote an article, 5 Steps For Leading Through Adaptive Change. The steps are basic:
- Give direction – For a leader communication is crucial and critical. We can never over communicate to our teams and leaders.
- Provide protection – Be the one willing to take the bullet. Do not only protect from internal politics but also from external.
- Clarify roles – Provide direction and guidance each step of the way as roles are being transformed.
- Manage conflict – Keep conflict away from colleagues and teams. It is your job to protect. (Remember, step two.)
- Shape the norms – It is your job to steer the ship, but not your job to do it by yourself. Bring the team along. Help them see the future and the new norm. They will follow.
I’ll close this week with a another quote from Jack Welch, “The day you become a leader, your job is to take people who are already great and make them unbelievable.”
Remember, It’s not about you, but about them!