As Wake Up and Shake It Up continues, we are thrilled by this joint effort from S. Max Brown (VP of Organizational Learning) and Tanveer Naseer (Business Coach and Writer). It’s a bold blog post…just what we wanted for this series. Be prepared to look at what you’re doing that you can shake up how you show up as a leader.
As a leader, do you think your role requires you to serve others or for others to serve you? Obviously, most of us would answer that leadership involves putting the needs of others before ourselves and undoubtedly, most leaders would like to believe that this is the way they approach their role within the organization. And yet, the reality is that many leaders, despite their well-intentioned beginnings, slowly shift away from servant leadership to a more self-centric one as their sphere of influence increases.
Indeed, recent research by professors at Berkeley and Stanford found that as leaders gain power they increasingly become more self-serving and less interested in their “underlings.” Harvard Lecturer Harry Spence takes this one step further saying:
“The problem is that leaders have non-conscious purposes, driven by self-protective and self-aggrandizing needs. Even those who are acutely aware of the risks of self-aggrandizement can be blissfully unaware of how the self-protective instinct influences their behavior.”
The result, according to Spence, is that employees “withdraw their commitment to the organization . . . and have learned to live with reduced expectations and diminished purposes.” The tragedy, he concludes, is that “we see the irrationalities of others, but consider ourselves exempt from such irrationality, so we manage to disguise to ourselves the ways our ego hijacks our behavior away from organizational purpose. What is apparent to our organization is invisible to us as leaders.”
With today’s growing need for business leaders to be more involved and aware, how can leaders remain conscious of their impact on others and avoid this tendency for self-centered behavior? Here are some questions that can help you figure out where to begin.
- How do you communicate respect? Do the systems, policies, and management tools you have in place communicate respect, trust, loyalty, and appreciation? If not, maybe you should reconsider what you have put in place and how it is being perceived by employees.
- Do you have a guiding purpose? Without one, it is easy to be driven by more self-serving needs. As such, work with your team to define what the objectives of your organization should be in order to make sure that it takes into account not just your needs, but the needs of your team as well.
- Where do you spend most of your work day? Is it spent putting out fires and calling out mistakes? Or do you spend more of your time creating, building, and inspiring others to do great work? Great leaders clear obstacles to make it easy for employees to do their best as opposed to watching their back out of fear of reprisal.
- Are you making sure the needs of others are being met or are you only tracking whether yours are addressed? Ironically, while we consider our own needs first priority, nothing lifts us faster than when we set out to lift others. When the team feels energized and confident, they are more likely to achieve the business goals set out for your organization – making your job easier in the process.
It’s clear looking at the fall of many well-established companies that the approach to leadership and how leaders interact with their employees will need to change if companies are going to not only survive, but thrive in the decades to come.
In many ways, Spence summarized it perfectly when he asked, “Are you conscious of how you bear the mantle of leadership?” Maybe we aren’t as selfless in our actions as we once thought . . . but we can become more conscious about it as we face the challenges of today’s world.
We’d love to hear your comments. Please share them below. Thanks.