In the Harvard Business Review, Julie Irwin, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin's McCombs School of Business, examines the dangerous myth of absolute loyalty to a leader. Not only are there many examples of people having been led astray, but such fealty presumes that a leader has all the answers and is the most important aspect of an organization.
As Irwin notes, nothing could be further from the truth. Investing that degree of deference and assumption of omniscience is dangerous and has created such disasters as Enron and the financial meltdown that brought on the Great Recession.
Rampant ego helps create such an unhealthy atmosphere, certainly. But so does fear. People find themselves in an executive position, buy into this ridiculous model of the perfect leader, and then fear that they will fail and be found out. The fear then drives dysfunctional behavior.
When I co-authored The Everything Leadership Book, 2nd Edition, the topic of fear among leaders and followers was something that repeatedly came up. Not a surprise, if you think about it, because fear is one of the major aspects of emotional life. However, you can lead in a way that minimizes fear and eventually supplants it. Here are seven practices of great leadership that you can adopt to begin changing everything.
1. Embrace the intelligence of the team
Smart leaders recognize that no one can know everything. Instead, they look for and welcome intelligence in team members. You want a variety of experiences and bodies of knowledge to bring to bear on the organization's goals. Encourage people to be smart and active in planning and execution.
2. Give people authority and responsibility
You can't know everything and you can't do everything. Micromanagement never makes sense when you can train people and then depend on them. Team members need responsibility to grow and have a good relationship to the organization and they need the authority to assume the responsibility.
3. Make most of your job to help others
You lose nothing when you help others shine. You may not take the bows every time, and that's fine. It's like being a good parent. Your children will grow into adulthood and responsibility, and yet everyone knows it would have been impossible without your help. Enjoying the satisfaction of enabling the best in others is part of being a true grownup.
4. Keep an eye on something bigger than you
Fear is strongest when you focus on yourself. Every difficulty and setback gets tied into your sense of yourself. Of course you will be scared, because problems get wrongly turned into attacks on your very existence. Get the focus on something bigger and more important than yourself, like the goals of the organization and the principles of being a good leader.
5. Remember, goals enable means
We usually think of means in relationship to goals. You create and steer an organization to achieve the end. But you can also think of goals as what enable means. You want your team to do great things. If you achieve a big goal, were you planning to dissolve your company? Probably not. Goals become reasons for the people in the organization to thrive and work together.
6. Love the process more than the results
As part of enabling the means, enjoy the process. The true pleasure of leadership isn't in the results, because their importance will always pass, but in the process of working toward achievement. You oversee and are responsible for a thriving community, and success comes in its everyday management and cultivation. When you don't get the results, go back to the process and find what needs to happen differently.
7. Recognize that mistakes are essential
Fear of mistakes comes with fear of failure. However, you need mistakes if you're to do the real job of leadership and help improve the organization. Find problems through the evidence of mistakes, work with the team to fix them, and then keep moving on. Where's the fun if everything goes right?