Care Choices Leadership Qualities Self awareness

The most important decision in your life

How to lead right? Leading people is a privilege. It is also a responsibility, an obligation, to take care of your people. Those people you lead deserve your best.

When flight attendants give their pre-flight safety instructions, one thing they tell you is that, in the case of a drop in cabin pressure, be sure to place the oxygen mask over your own face first before assisting anyone else, even your own children. 

This instruction strongly contradicts most parents’ instincts. Parents will take care of their children first in case of danger before taking care of themselves. It’s not the right decision when on an airplane. I don’t have to explain why this instruction is given. 

Instead, I’d like to point out the analogy with leadership. 

As a leader, you need to take care of yourself first. As Jack Welch has put it very well:

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” 

Jack Welch

This is why my book (the one I’m currently writing) starts with a section on self. You can only be a successful leader if you invest in yourself first. You can’t grow people effectively when you have no clue how to grow yourself, and you can’t lead a team when you don’t know how to lead. You have to give yourself oxygen first.

Leaders are not born. Leaders are grown.

Yes, there are people who have a natural ability to influence people, leverage their charisma, and manage teams based on power and position. These people are able to create followership, but that doesn’t make them great leaders.

Some people are put in leadership roles because of their expertise. They know best what needs to happen within a specific project or process. They have invested sometimes years to build the knowledge to be THE expert. But that doesn’t make them great leaders, either.

The third category is the group of leaders, which comprises family and friends. These people are put into leadership roles because of bloodline or friendship. They’re close to the founders or descendants of the founders and are offered leadership roles because they’re trusted. That’s a good foundation, but that neither makes them great leaders.

Leading people is a skill — a hard skill, not a soft skillLeading people is a choice. It’s a decision. 

I argue that it’s the most important work decision you will make or have made in your life. With that decision, you’re going to impact other people. 

You will impact other people’s livelihoods and growth positively or negatively. You are going to be the reason people get up in the morning and decide to go to work or the reason people call in sick. 

Depending on your impact on the growth of the people you ‘touch,’’ you may impact entire teams, entire divisions, entire businesses, and, in a few cases, even society.

Therefore, those people deserve that at least you know yourself and how you want to lead and grow people. They deserve to know that you care.

Leading people is a privilege. It is also a responsibility, an obligation, to take care of your people. Those people you lead deserve your best. If you can’t bring it, leave your leadership role — for your own sake and even more for the sake of the people you’re leading.

I recently coached a leader whose supervisor (I deliberately don’t use the word leader) admitted that the content part of his work interested him more than leading people. To those leaders who have no interest in leading people but who enjoy the content part of their work more, I would say this:

“It’s time to go look elsewhere. You’re not a leader.”

When you take leadership seriously, you understand your responsibility to the people who work for you. You know that they may look to you for guidance. You understand that they see you also as their coach. You know you need to show care and are not just stretching them to do more.

To be an effective leader, you need to understand people, but you first and foremost need to understand yourself. If you can answer the question, “Why should anyone be led by you?” with integrity, humility, passion, and drive, you have created the foundation for becoming a great leader. “Because I get results” is perhaps part of the answer (I’m not so sure), but it’s not THE answer. 

Results will come when you lead right, not because you are the leader. 

What does leading right mean to me? 

I’m now assuming that you’re aware of your responsibility as a leader and realize that being a leader is a conscious decision with a significant impact on yourself, but more so on others.

That awareness has three implications, which I will address over the following weeks:
  1. You know the qualities of great leaders and what you need to do to develop them. All great leaders have a few qualities in common. Without those qualities, teams will never flourish.
  2. You understand people at a deeper level, what drives them to bring their best selves to work. I’m not going to ask you to become a psychologist, but it’s good to have an understanding of human needs in the workplace.
  3. You realize which mindset is required to be an effective leader and which mindset is required to drive a successful business. You know how to lead people and help them adopt the right mindset to be successful in their work.

Leading people is fun when you do it well. Leading people is not a burden, as some believe, and more dangerously, project on others. You have done your job excellently when you see people grow, develop, and be promoted beside and possibly even beyond you. 

That’s what leadership is about. That’s how you bring meaning and substance to the most critical work decision you will ever make. Treat that decision and responsibility with respect, integrity, passion, humility, and determination.

Your turn: Are you ready to lead RIGHT, <<First Name>>?

Do more of what makes you happy!


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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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