Leading people is all about influence. Sometimes influence comes from a position. For example, the commander-in-chief has influence over the armed forces by his or her position. Usually, though, it comes from relationships that develop over time.
That's true, by the way, at almost every level of leadership--people follow leaders they trust, and who they believe have their best interests in mind. The challenge is that often people default to leading from their position and skip past the part about building relationships. That's why this quote from former vice president Joe Biden is such a great reminder of what really matters.
In an interview with Brené Brown, Biden said: "Leadership, at its core, in my view, is about being personal."
One of the striking things about that quote is that, as a person running for the highest elected office, Biden didn't say that leadership was about having the best ideas. He didn't say it was about winning the most votes. It isn't about being in charge. At its core, leadership "is about being personal."
I think that view is right. Leadership is about being personal because leadership is about people. One of the most important aspects of leading people is the ability to understand and share their feelings. That, by the way, is empathy, and it's a leadership superpower.
Regardless of how you might feel about Biden's politics or policies, I think there's a lot everyone can learn from that view on leadership. Leaders who are willing to carefully consider not just ideas, but also the perspectives and feelings of the people on their team are leaders who have teams that thrive. They're the types of leaders that people want to follow, not just because they're effective at getting things done, but also because they're effective at building into others.
Biden went on to say:
You always put yourself in the other person's position, and then also to understand where they're coming from, whether it's a major foreign leader or a friend whom you have a disagreement with. And it's also being willing to share credit, give recognition, and share in the benefits as well as in the losses if you're in an endeavor together.
As a leader, empathy means understanding that the decisions you make will affect the people around you. Sometimes it means seeing beyond conflict with another person to actually see the person. It means validating others' circumstances and their experiences and seeking to understand how your leadership will affect their lives.
Because make no mistake, it will.
When you're working on something, whether it's campaigning for president or building a business, one of the hardest things to do is separate yourself from your mission. In the middle of trying to get something done, they often seem the same. The problem is that it can be easy to overlook the people you're responsible for moving toward that mission.
Leaders often have to make calls that other people don't agree with. That's just a function of being responsible for a group of people, a project, or a country. The worst thing is for people to feel you don't hear their concerns or input. On the other hand, when people know that you understand--and that you care--it becomes easier to trust your leadership even when they don't agree.
By the way, and this is just a bonus, there was another four-word phrase the former vice president used that's just as valuable a lesson for leaders: "I don't hold grudges." That's a pretty important mentality for anyone wanting to step and lead, and not just on a national scale.
Sometimes the people who can help you reach your goal are the same people you butted heads with in the past. Senator Harris said plenty of harsh things about Biden when the two were standing on debate stages during the primary. Still, at some point, if she was the person he felt was the best running mate, it would be foolish to let an old grudge get in the way.
Chances are, the same is true for you.