Me, Me, Me Leaders

The world of work has moved

Getting to the very top of a company is a zero sum game where you either make it or you don’t.  There are winners, losers and wannabees.  For the highly ambitious, the efforts start early.  Often from childhood they have self-selected themselves to become the leader.  To earn their spot at the top they have to show they can shine, as they make their way up through the ranks.  They shine all right. In fact they shine all the light on themselves to make sure they eventually get the top seat.  They are selfish, self centered, self-promoting and out of date.


The world of work has moved. Sheer will, dominance of others, baring of teeth and the pointed display of claws isn’t as important as it once was.  In the modern firm, we need to see teams working well together, both internally at the section level and at the broader level of a total company-wide team effort.  This requires an aspirant for the big job to have a greater degree of big picture vision and strong sense of holistic responsibility for the entire fleet, rather than your own little row boat.


This is not how we have been developed in the past though and so old habits are hard to break.  The Golden Rule of Bosses in the past was simple.  Anything that went well was “all my own work”. Anything that crashed and burned was “the fault of others”.  Claiming credit for everything, attaching your name to successful projects (when you actually hardly contributed anything) and widespread sucking up to the top echelon was de rigeur.


It is a tricky separation between supreme self-belief and narcissism.  Many bosses cross that line and become all about how great, smart and special they are.  This is the well trodden philosophy of  “pick me, pick me” for the top job road to success.  Huge confidence and huge ego often come as a package.  It can be a nasty pairing, obnoxious and pathetically shallow.


In our companies we need leaders who others want to follow, who can engage the team and get everyone playing to their full strength.  Think about it.  If you are not engaged, you don’t care about innovation and making things run better around here.  You become disengaged, which in reality, is encouraging a form of self-centered selfishness.  Leaders who are all about themselves kill motivation, commitment and engagement.  As an aspirant leader though you may think you have to be constantly self-promoting yourself forward.  Now where do you suppose you learnt that model of behavior from?  Probably your ever upward, elbows at the ready, take all the credit, scrambling boss.


If we want engaged, creative staff we have to give them leaders who are prepared to recognize others for their good work.  Hogging the limelight and monopolising successes doesn’t breed any respect from those below.  They are not stupid. What they see is that they are considered expendable, that their efforts are being taken for granted and their successes are being looted by their boss.  When this is the case, we are not likely to leap out of bed on a chilly morning and rush down there, to work like a demon for the cause. The boss gains staff engagement to the degree they make their team members feel valued. To make them feel valued means putting the spotlight on the team and what they have accomplished. It means being someone focused on the success of others and believing that in their success, lies our own success.


These days, boss’s can’t bully their team members.  If they do the power harassment charges will be flying around fast.  They therefore can’t use fear as a tool to the extent it worked in the past.  There is an old saying that you get further by giving people honey rather than vinegar and it is even more true today. Playing to the strengths of individuals makes more sense than tearing strips off people who struggle with aspects of their work.  Our motivation to get better at tasks is critical.  When we fail and then have the boss rub our noses in that failure, we can easily feel weak and as if we can’t do the job.  The boss’s role is to create the opportunity for staff self-improvement and for them to grow their internal motivation, rather than grow the scope of the boss’s personal aggrandizement of other’s results.


Recognising our people is a big part of this transformation needed for the “me to we” boss.  We need to understand that the top executives are all looking for leaders who can produce staff motivation.  Yes, motivation is an internal game, but the boss creates the ecosystem for it to flourish in others.  The big bosses need to hear about the terrific efforts of your subordinates to fully appreciate you as a leader.  Hogging all the glory for yourself is counter-productive.  At the best, it means they can’t promote you.  They can’t move you because there is no one under you, talented enough to take over.  This is your own fault by the way.  At its worst, you just identify yourself as a selfish, limelight hogging boor, who is destined for nothing much in particular.


Ambition for yourself is fine, but ambition to become as helpful as possible to the team and produce the next generation of leaders is finer.  “Me” moved to “we” as the focus, works much better.  Staff developing skills and maintaining courage in the face of fire are directly related back to the attitude of the boss.  Exceptional people will shine regardless of what any boss does to them, simply because they are exceptional.  They have many choices, are totally mobile and will go where the best opportunities are to be found.  It is the other 99% who need our help to become as great as they can possibly become.


Talking up a storm about ourselves (and how awesome we are) or are we talking about our staff in glowing terms.  Simple choice really.  Which one of these bosses are you now and which one will you be in a year’s time?  Is it going to be twenty years of leadership experience or one year of leadership experience twenty times?  Time for the focus to be properly adjusted to where it needs to be and that is off the boss and on to the team members.


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