If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that leadership is one of its frequent topics. What constitutes good leadership? How does an individual develop the qualities necessary to be a good leader? How does an organization support good leadership?
Whether explicitly or implicitly, discussions about leadership often seem to involve the question of power. That’s because, whether we do it consciously or unconsciously, we often think of power as the power to do something—the capacity to get others to do what we want them to do, to exert control, to deliver results. These connotations of power imply the ability to coerce, and that’s not something everyone is comfortable with.
Personally, I like to think of power in a different way. Rather than think of it as a form of control over others, I like to think of power in two ways. First, there’s power over myself—the power that comes with self-discipline, with self-awareness, with persistence and passion. And second, there’s power as the ability to help others succeed, to deliver results not by driving others but by enabling others. Whether you call this Servant Leadership, Values-driven Leadership, Level-5 Leadership, or anything else, it comes down to something quite different from power as the ability to coerce.
As I’ve said before, there’s nothing “soft” about this kind of power. In their book on “Servant Led” companies, James Sipe and Don Frick compared the ROI of 11 publicly held, servant-led companies to the 11 “great” companies in Jim Collins’ Good to Great, as well as to the pre-tax return of the 500 largest public companies in the US. Over a 10-year period, the servant-led companies significantly outperformed the others.
This kind of power—the power that comes from self-awareness and self-discipline, the power to succeed by helping others succeed—this kind of power is values-based. It depends on a leader’s being committed to and consistently acting on the basis of values such as humility, empathy, caring for others, listening, persuasion, and true collaboration.
But here’s something I find quite interesting. In hiring situations, and also when I’m asked to come in and help an organization achieve higher levels of engagement, I often ask people, “What are your values and how were they shaped?” And whether I’m talking to front line employees or C-suite executives, it’s amazing how few people can answer that question. Even after taking some time to think it over, they really seem to have trouble coming up with anything solid, in the sense that they can actually explain what they mean by a given value, and talk about when and how they’ve demonstrated it.
That’s a problem. If you don’t know what values are most important to you, how can you assess whether you’re living by them? How can you decide whether they’re likely to make you the kind of leader—the kind of person—you aspire to be? How can you look at an organization and decide whether you’ll be a good fit?
Most of all, how much more powerful, in the best sense of the word, would you be as a leader if you were clear about your values?
And by the way, the less aware you are of your own values, the more likely you are to say one thing and do another. How many leaders have you encountered who say that they value collaboration when most of the time they act as if the only opinion that really matters is theirs? Believe me, when you fall into this trap, the people around you will notice—and they’ll be much less likely as a result to trust you, respect you, and yes, follow you.
What it comes down to is that having high levels of self-awareness around your values can be the groundwork for becoming a very powerful person, in the best sense of the word.
So, here are a few questions to consider. When was the last time you took a hard look at yourself in order to be able to articulate your values and how they were shaped? Have you ever shared your values with your team and have they every had the chance to share theirs with you? Is there anything holding you back from doing the above?
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this.