I had an experience the other day that prompted me to take another look at why I lead, and why people lead in general.
I was at Mass and I watched a little boy with Down Syndrome walk by. He was so joyful that I could not help but smile and feel that joy in myself. As I watched the rest of his family walk by I thought a bit deeper on this young man.
Though I felt joy seeing him, I know that not everyone would. So many people treat mentally handicapped people as lesser, and I know this boy will face that at some point if he hasn’t already. As I thought about that it made me feel both angry on the boy’s behalf and sad that we live in such a world. I asked myself why this happens.
It comes down to a very basic question. What do I value?
My values determine what I value in and about others. This then shapes my leadership.
For example, let’s say that I value productivity. I will naturally gravitate to high production people. I may overlook other flaws if I perceive that a teammate or employee is producing at a high level. “He’s a bit rough around the edges but he’s never missed a deadline.”
If I value production, I will measure my leadership by it. I will look at my teams, organizations, groups, or business in terms of production. If I have high production I will be proud of my team and estimate that I have lead well on account of it.
It may not be conscious but we all do this. We set our standards and measure success against what we value. It’s not a bad thing, but it is a thing that we should be aware of. What has disappointed you lately? What value was missing? What has excited you lately or given you a sense of fulfillment? What value was being affirmed or lived out?
Asking these questions will help you understand what you value most. Knowing that will allow you to consciously direct your leadership.
Ultimately the best leaders are able to find value in everyone. This requires enough maturity to look outside the things you naturally value and find the goodness is areas you have not been aware of or valued in the past. Recognizing value in disparate skill sets or character traits is one of the marks of a great leader.
The pinnacle though, for a leader, is developing the ability to find value in the individual him or her self, beyond skills or personality. When you can see an individual as valuable regardless of what they bring to the table then you have seen the key to the greatest form of leadership, servant leadership.
The servant leader doesn’t lead for the sake of a profit, an ideal, or a cause. A servant leader leads for the betterment of those around them, recognizing the value of each person.
I’m not knocking other leaders or their motivation and values. There are plenty of great reasons and values to lead. When we look at history though, the greatest leaders who still impact us hundreds or thousands of years later are the ones who took their leadership to the level of servanthood.
What do you value?
Why to do you lead?
What will it take to get you to the next level?