Forward thinking: Why the best leaders are the best leaders

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As a kid growing up, I loved baseball.

I loved playing it, watching it, talking about it and reading about it. I dreamed about being the shortstop for the New York Yankees. My idol on their team was Pee Wee Reese. Long after I gave up on that dream, I followed the fortunes of my beloved Yankees.

I was especially intrigued by the good fortunes of the Yankees from 1996 to 2007 when Joe Torre served as their manager. Under his leadership, he led the New York Yankees to the playoffs every year – winning an astounding 17 series in the post season.

Over those same 12 years, the Los Angeles Dodgers did not win a playoff series. Then in 2008, Torre departed New York to coach the Dodgers. The result? The Dodgers won their first post-season series in 20 years while the Yankees missed the playoffs altogether.

Ask Yankees and Dodgers fans and they will tell you that Joe Torre’s leadership
made all the difference in the world. However, they may not be able to tell you exactly why Joe Torre was an excellent leader. What was true of the fans in New York and Los Angeles is true for many of us today. We experience the effects of leadership without understanding the cause.

This prompts a question in my mind and possibly yours. Why are the best leaders the best leaders? In a nutshell, I have observed and now believe that remarkable leaders give their best to their people, and in turn get the best from their people. How does this happen?

The best leaders give their best to their people by:

1) GROWING

My observation has been that people naturally follow leaders they respect as being more advanced than they are. For this reason personal growth is directly proportional to influence. If you desire to gain followers, you have to pay the price of getting better. Personal growth involves challenging yourself and pushing beyond the realm of comfort. When is the last time you did something for the first time? How long has it been since you felt in over your head?

2) SERVING

Serving others is an attitude issue. Unfortunately, many leaders operate under a king-of-the-hill mentally. They attempt to pull down anyone above them in order to secure the top spot for themselves. They ultimately burn bridges and isolate themselves.

The best leaders take an entirely different approach. Rather than dragging anyone down, they extend a hand to lift the performance of teammates and coworkers. Over time, they are honored for the contributions they have to the lives around them.

All leaders serve. Again, serving is a motive issue. It boils down to one simple question: “Who?” Does the politician serve the public or his pocketbook? Does the CEO serve to benefit the shareholders or to support her lifestyle. The best leaders set a tone by and prove they are deserving of being in front.

3) MODELING

Growing leaders have something to share. Serving leaders have something to give. Modeling leaders have something to show. In other words, the best leaders embody their values. Their very lives exudes passion and demands respect. As one of my mentors reminded me, “Leaders tell, but never teach, until they practice what they preach.”

The best leaders get the best from their people by:

1) LISTENING

The smartest leaders realize the limitations of their wisdom. They listen to their people in order to capture invaluable insights. However they don’t just listen to gain knowledge, they also listen to give their people permission. permission to challenge the process… permission to test assumptions… and permission to take risks. Nothing turns off an up-and-coming leader like the deaf ear of a superior. The best leaders don’t simply listen to incoming ideas. They proactively draw them out of their people. They listen actively, not passively.

2) RELATING

The best leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand. To touch a heart, a leader has to be open to disclosing his or her identity by sharing personal stories, significant failures, and owning up to professional weaknesses. Mysterious or aloof leaders may be successful decision makers, but they won’t get the heart felt loyalty that comes from authentic relationships – especially during times of crisis.

Best leaders dignify their people by studying their interest, learning about their families and finding out about their families. Conscious of the power of connection, best leaders refuse to be barricaded inside an office rather they take responsibility for relating to others on a regular basis.

3) TEACHING

Gifted teachers have a way of making students out of disinterested bystanders.
The best leaders have an infectious thirst for knowledge. Furthermore, they take pride in cultivating knowledge of their craft and awareness of their industry. In other words, a leader’s teaching ability depends upon ongoing personal growth. Howard Hicks once said, “If you stop growing today, you stop teaching tomorrow.”

4) DEVELOPING

The best leaders understand the differences between training people for tasks and developing people to be better leaders. Training people focuses on the job, adds value to specific things, is helpful for a short time and changes a performance. Developing people focuses on the person, adds value to everything, is helpful for a life time and changes the performer for the better.

In other words, the best leaders view their people as appreciable assets and prioritizes investing in their talent.

5) MOTIVATING

At this point, I can envision someone asking the question, “Why is motivation last on the list?” And my response is, If you listen, relate, teach and develop your people, then they will be motivated!

Allow me to summarize it a bit differently. Sustained motivation comes by creating the right environment for your people and doing the right things consistently to nurture them.

Consider a flower. It cannot grow in the Arctic. It requires a climate conducive to growth. Yet, even in the right environment, the flower must be planted in hospitable soil, exposed to sunlight, watered, and freed of weeds.

IN CLOSING

In summary, we are all in positions of leadership at one level or another.
If you disagree with me, I would encourage to reconsider and review the salient
lessons that I have learned through the school of hard knocks over the years.

So, back to the original questions relating to “best” leaders. Are you giving your best to your people? Are you getting the best from your people. If not, why so?

Until next time…

Loren (1)–By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 35 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years and is currently a member of the Lynnwood Civil Service Commission. Loren works as a consultant, writer, speaker and trainer. He is currently a member of the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Foundation.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Good article!

    I took JROTC in high school and they had the “26 points of leadership” chart. These were qualities that make up a successful leader. We were taught that anyone can be a leader, but you needed to work on being a successful leader. Anyone can tell you to do your job, but a successful leader makes it so you want to do your job without being told.

  2. Ha, ROTC is the House! From four years of ROTC, I can talk up and down about what it means to be a leader. As I had the privilege to serve with great officers, the best leaderships skills I learned were from the enlisted. I learned that leadership doesn’t come from a title or experience, it’s how someone can inspire others to be. Mr. Simmonds you definitely inspire me to be a knowledgeable and engaged citizen, thank you for the great articles!

  3. Um, Loren, Pee Wee Reese played for the Dodgers (Brooklyn & LA) NOT the Yankees. Not only was he from Louisville, where I lived for a total of 10 years, but Connie and the kids and I lived a short walk from Pee Wee Reese Drive.

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