You don’t become a good leader by memorizing a list of things to do. You can learn a lot from lists, but all the lists on advice about leadership ultimately add up to one simple concept: respect people. If you don’t understand that concept or can’t live by it then no amount of advice will help you.
I’ve met a lot of people who worked in leadership roles and thought of themselves as leaders, but in their minds they were a higher form of life than the people who had to work beneath them. It doesn’t matter if you’re older, more experienced, educated or hold more credentials than another person. You’re not better than anyone else. Even if you were better than someone else on some level you’re still equal from the cosmic perspective.
We live in an inanimate universe that is nonetheless governed by elegant rules of nature, and despite all probability the design of the universe includes the possibility for sentient life to build itself out of inanimate matter and evolve itself from pond scum into walking, talking, thinking, loving, learning life forms. In an infinitely large universe the rarity and beauty of life makes it infinitely valuable.
So leaders don’t manage peons. Dictators do that. Leaders should see themselves as being responsible for the rarest, most valuable phenomenon in the universe. When you look at your role like this you can’t help but treat your workers with respect. You can’t belittle, harass or threaten people you value so strongly. Instead you’ll find yourself looking at life from their perspective and treating them with the dignity you expect to be treated with.
When you treat others with kindness and dignity you’ll find that they’ll value you in return. When they value you for who you are and how you treat them you won’t need to belittle, harass or threaten them to do what you want. They’ll want to go above and beyond the limit for you, and they’ll be more loyal to you.
Regardless of how nice you are to them they won’t respect your authority if they see you sitting around all day and taking long breaks. As a leader your work ethic sets the bar for your organization. This means you have to work harder than everyone else. When they see you working hard and picking up their slack they won’t have any room to complain when you tell them to do something.
In addition to taking responsibility for your organization’s work load you also have to take responsibility for being the brain of the operation. As powerful as the super computer inside every human being’s head is, people tend to think only as much as their role demands. They could answer the hard questions that need to be answered to make an organization function properly, but that’s not their job. They’re job is to do what they’re told. So they’ll rely on you to think for them. This isn’t laziness. This is instinctual. You need to be able to rise to this challenge and make wise decisions quickly. When people realize that they can rely on you to answer all their questions and make wise decisions they’ll come to rely on you. When they’re able to rely on you they’ll respect you because you make them feel safe and secure.
Even if you do all of these things correctly you’ll still find that some people will still do the bare minimum that’s expected of them (or less). Part of being responsible for other people is setting limits and being firm. As long as you aren’t abusive about it people will respect the fact that you won’t let them get away with anything. In fact, when a human being obeys another person it reinforces in their mind that they should obey that person.
This is why militaries force enlisted troops to salute officers. They tell the troops that they’re saluting out of respect, but they’re really saluting to keep them in the habit of obeying without question. Forcing one human being to salute another human being in order to manipulate them into maintaining a servile mind set is unethical (especially if you punish them with a dishonourable discharge for failing to subjugate themselves to their equals), but that doesn’t mean requiring people to follow rules is unethical. Structure makes people feel safe, and they respect anyone with the strength of character to lay down rules and stick to them.
At any rate, everyone knows that they’re supposed to follow rules even when they try to break them. You don’t have to get philosophical about how to discipline people. You don’t have to yell or give big speeches. All you have to do is tell rule breakers what they did wrong, how you expect to correct the problem and in worst-case scenarios what will happen if they continue to neglect their responsibilities. Ninety nine times out of a hundred they’ll correct the problem simply because they know they’re supposed to. If they don’t then you give them a few warnings and eventually let them go. You don’t have to raise your voice or tear them down to do that. You can do it as calmly as Buddha. When other people see you discipline others firmly and with dignity they’ll respect your authority not out of fear but because you’ve demonstrated that you deserve to be respected.
There’s more to leadership than just this, but ultimately the only way to learn the little details of how to be a good leader is by being a leader. Every minute of leadership experience you get under your belt improves your skills. Like learning any other skill it’s good to start off small and work your way up. Doing something like managing an amateur sports team or teaching an informal night class is a good way to build your leadership skills before managing a large number of people who do big important things that have severe consequences.
If you liked this post you may like these:
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- What I learned about life from working in IT: part 1, part 2, part 3
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