For the last few months, we have been going through a great series on the 10 leadership skills every new leader must master. Each of these episodes stands on its own as a leadership skill, however if you would like to start from the beginning, check out episode 63. Also, if you have not listened to part 1 of this last letter of “leadership,” I recommend you listen to episode 72.
In this episode I cover:
- Why should they follow you?
- What’s more important in leadership: to make a mark, or leave a legacy?
Why Should They Follow You?
Of all the reasons why people should follow you, what means the most to you?
- They follow me because I am the boss.
- They follow me because they have to.
- They follow me because I pay them well.
- They follow me because they like where I am taking them.
- They follow me because they respect me and trust me.
My team followed me in my early years of leadership because they had to. I was stuck at the top of this list, and I don’t wish that for anyone. I was their appointed leader and the first chance they got they voted me off the island. In hindsight, it really is the best thing that ever happened to me as a young leader. It caused me to look inside myself and learn the early valuable lessons of the heart and of passion. It is all about our hearts, not our heads.
The best kind of leaders are those like my friend Dave, that I told you about in Episode 69, who was given a new car by his team after twenty years of leadership because they love and respect him so much. They know that Dave has a shepherd’s heart for them, it comes through with the genuine love he shows for his team. They have never seen him as just a hired hand.
The longer I live, the more I find that matters of the heart reign supreme in the lives of all leaders. These are the soft issues of leadership, as we mentioned at length in the podcasts on emotional intelligence. Guard your heart carefully, and your gifts will take care of themselves:
“Above all else, guard your heart,
For everything you do flows from it.”
Here is a simple test to see how you are doing with pride and humility in your leadership. How well do you take feedback about your leadership? Do you even look for it? Prideful leaders don’t want feedback and get defensive if it is offered. Humble leaders know that feedback is part of healthy mature leadership. We all have to learn to improve our game. When my team told me what was wrong with me in those early days, I was devastated. And I immediately got defensive and angry with them. I tried to explain it all away and justify myself. But then one of my mentors gave me some great advice, “Look for the five percent of truth in what they are saying about you.” Well, I did, and actually it was more like fifty percent! In my subsequent years of leadership, I have always asked for feedback and responded first with the two words, “thank you.” Starting with those two power words puts you in the right frame of mind to learn and avoid defensiveness.
You might think it strange that I would use Moses and Steve Jobs in the same podcast as examples of leaders who led with humility. But it is true. Steve Jobs was fired just like Moses was—from the company he started. Think about it, and you will realize that Moses appointed himself to lead the children of Israel before he was ready, and they rejected him. Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer, but as he rose in his leadership, things went south for him and he was eventually fired from the company he founded. And I thought I had problems on my little team!
On June 12th, 2005, Steve Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University. His topic was, “You’ve got to find what you love.” He says in that address that his firing was the best thing that ever happened to him as a leader. It humbled him and gave him a chance as a young leader to mature. He had a gut check and a heart check.
Steve Jobs was notoriously tough to work with. He had an extraordinary dose of talent and gifting. If you read his life story, you will learn that he was very demanding as a leader. As tough as he was on people, he garnered extreme loyalty. On a recent trip to China, I saw the biggest Apple stores ever… everyone seemed to have an iPhone and iPad. I was visiting with a friend in Beijing. He told me his young son, who wants to learn English, just learned his first English word: “Apple.” All that impact goes back to Steve’s passion as a leader. He was not just pushing himself; he had a passion for changing the world. Steve Jobs made a huge mark and left a great legacy. He developed a fanatic tribe of loyal followers because he was doing work he loved, not just trying to make money. He led with his heart out front. I really believe that Steve Jobs served us all with a humble heart. Here is a small excerpt from that commencement speech at Stanford:
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do the work you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” – Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs, Simon and Schuster, 2011)
I think that if you love what you do, and really care about the people that you work with, then you will do fine as their leader. People get in trouble when they lead for their own egos or for what is in it for them. My mentor in graduate school, Howard Hendricks, had a great piece of advice for young leaders: “Your career is what you’re paid to do; your calling is what you’re made to do.” When you find that sweet spot of doing what you are made to do, then your heart can lead out front fully alive.
Followers are smart. They are not dumb like sheep. They know the motives of those who lead them. When I was a young leader, I have to admit, I really made things all about me. It was my quest to be successful and make a name for myself. I guess I had a lot of pride and self-centeredness that had to be dealt with. I had to learn the conversion from me to we. I had to learn to lead with my heart out front, vulnerable, accessible and really caring about my people as a shepherd, not a hired hand. It reminds me of what the apostle Peter shared with his budding new leaders in the book of I Peter:
“Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly–not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.” I Peter 5:2 (New Living Translation)
Make a Mark – Leave a Legacy
I think that ultimately as leaders we want to make a mark and leave a legacy. Some of us will leave bigger marks than others, but we will all leave a legacy. When we are young, it is mostly about making a mark. When we get older, it seems more about leaving a legacy. The two ideas are actually connected at the hip. We create our legacy as we leave our mark. Our legacy will be remembered; by those we led, as positive or negative. On the positive side, they will think of us as having a good heart and taking them to great places they could not have taken themselves. They remember that we cared about the people, not just the task. On the negative side of the ledger, some leaders leave and the followers throw a party. “Yea, she is finally gone!” She only looked out for her own career, and her heart was never really with us. She used the position as nothing more than a stepping-stone.
In my career, I have had three major farewell milestones. I had three major positions of leadership over a span of thirty years, and in each case they threw a farewell event for Donna and me at my departure. I remember each occasion vividly. I really do wonder what everyone was thinking during those gatherings. Actually, I am glad I don’t know what was said in hushed whispers. Some were grateful for my legacy, and if I am honest with myself, I know that some were glad I was moving on.
What will be said about you at your farewell event? Hopefully when you leave your current leadership assignment it will be on good terms. Trust me, that day will come. None of us are indispensible. Sooner or later we move on. Leaders leave a legacy whether they plan to or not. Truth is, we rarely think about our legacy while in the daily grind of leadership.
But when we do finish up, what will we have left behind in our wake?
In the end, I want to be remembered by the kind of person I was and the difference I made. One of the greatest brief leadership tributes in the Bible is stated about King David. Here was a man mighty in gifts; talent, looks, personality and personal strength. But look what comes through about his legacy. The thing that David knew, and that Moses learned, is that God uses humble leaders who rely first on God and lead with a humble heart. King David was remembered as one of the greatest leaders of God’s people.
“And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” Psalm 78:72
I love that verse because it expresses the soft skills and hard skills of effective leadership. People should fist and foremost remember what our hearts were all about. If people say of me at my funeral, “He had a good heart and he loved his family,” then I can go to my reward a happy man. As I have grown older, I have come to care much more about my character legacy than what I accomplished. No one every says at the end of their lives, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” No, they generally wish they had spent more time with their loved ones and doing good things for others.
Coming Full Circle Back to “L”
Jim Collins is one of my favorite writers on leadership. I devour everything he writes. In his book How the Mighty Fall, he shows that arrogance and the lack of humility are some of the great causes of corporate failures. In his classic book Good to Great, Collins recognized the power of servant leadership. He calls it “Level 5” leadership. After analyzing hundreds of companies, he observed that the leaders of the most successful, long-standing, and truly great companies are Level 5 leaders, who lead through their teams. Level 5 leaders are humble because they clearly know their own limitations. Instead of promoting their own visions, they get their leaders together and pepper them with probing questions to draw new strategies out of them.
I started this series by looking at the letter “L” in leadership. Do you recall what it stands for? It stands for listen and learn, the two most important words in the leader’s vocabulary. The first and most important mistake that new leaders need to avoid is lack of listening and learning. And do you see how pride gets in the way of both of these skills for the new leader? If you think you have all the answers, you won’t listen. If you have not dealt with your pride, you certainly won’t be learning new things. It is from a place of humility you can be a truly great leader.