Why Do You Lead?

by Peter Stark January 27, 2016
January 27, 2016

Why do you lead?

This is the single most important question you can ask yourself as a leader, and your answer has everything to do with your success or failure.

Will your employees choose to follow you because you are successful, rich, or have a title? Probably not; they will follow you because you have a purpose bigger than yourself. You inspire them with “why” you lead – to help them learn, grow, and be successful. Everybody connects with this purpose.

Simon Sinek’s presentation How Great Leaders Inspire Action is the third most viewed Ted Talk in history with over 25 million viewers. In it, he states, “Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us.” These leaders are driven by a cause greater than themselves. We follow, respond to, vote for, and buy from people because we believe in their purpose.

Sinek continues, “We follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. It’s those who start with “why” that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others who inspire them.”

Your purpose reflects your leadership character and beliefs. Although many people believe that focusing on leadership character rather than skills and tactics is “soft” and not practical, it’s just the opposite. Tactical problems are most often rooted in weak character and self-serving leadership. The outcome is dissatisfied and unproductive employees, frustrated leaders, chaotic cultures, and under-performing organizations.

Changes in individual behavior, like organizational change, don’t result from facts and figures, but from an emotional response to information. Leaders who lead because they care about the success and well-being of their followers lead with a purpose that connects with and inspires followers on an emotional level.

During a recent training session on the topic of coaching and counseling to improve performance, I asked the vice president of human resources for some background on why they were offering employees this training. She told me that the majority of managers don’t see coaching as part of their job and don’t like to deliver difficult feedback. My thought, which I kept to myself, was, “How can anyone lead if they don’t see it as their responsibility – or better yet, their opportunity – ­ to develop the people they expect to follow them?”

Leading others is a privilege, not an entitlement, and it should be embraced as such. People who lead have great responsibility. You are charged with another person’s time, efforts, hopes, dreams, ambitions, and sense of self-worth.

The following six leadership attributes will help you lead with a higher purpose that inspires your followers.

Respect: You can’t be a leader without trust and respect, and you can’t build trust and respect without communication. Demonstrate that you value your followers by sharing important information with them, asking for input and suggestions, using their ideas whenever possible, and delegating new opportunities for them to grow.

Humility: Give credit to others when your team is successful, and take responsibility for team mistakes and failures. Have the courage to say, “I made a mistake,” or “You’re right.” Don’t be afraid of your followers’ success – encourage it.

Service: Get to know your followers hopes, dreams and goals. Make it a habit to regularly ask your employees, “What can I do to help you be successful?” Take time on a daily basis to invest in your followers’ development with training, coaching, and constructive feedback.

Gratitude: Gratitude isn’t complicated, but it does require heartfelt thought and action. Thank team members for their contributions, and recognize extraordinary effort and accomplishments. Let your followers know that you take your leadership position seriously and are grateful for the opportunity to invest in them.

Grace: Too many people in this world believe mistakes are bad. Expect mistakes and approach them as learning opportunities. Realize that if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying new things. Give employees the opportunity to try new ways of doing things and let them try again when they fail. Cultivate an attitude of acceptance and understanding.

Trust: It can take weeks, months, or even years to build trust, but mere seconds to destroy it. Be a person of your word, always. Follow through and do what you say you are going to do. Be trustworthy in all your actions.

Embracing leadership as a privilege and an opportunity to invest in the success of others is beneficial to a wide variety of employee engagement challenges organizations face today. Leaders who answer the “Why?” question with “For others” are great talent managers, build high-performance teams, increase productivity, retain top performers, and generate employee loyalty, which all lead to increased performance and profits.

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