by Brian Bacon, Director, Engagement Services
Published April 27, 2022

Leadership is not about being the best. Leadership is about making everyone else better. (Author Unknown).

A Navy Captain (an extremely high rank in the chain of naval command) in a Leadership Training Session was once asked what his secret was that nearly everyone asked wanted to work for him – both military and civilian. His response, “I have just been very fortunate to be surrounded by exceptional people,” was not expected nor realistic. The odds of everyone working for and with the Captain being “exceptional” to begin with are not particularly high. The odds of the Captain being an exceptional leader and PRODUCING “exceptional” people to work with is a much more likely scenario which brings us back to the question “What differentiates the Captain from his/her peers?”

The ultimate goal of a leader should be to create an atmosphere where everyone can become the best they can possibly be. A true leader would like to bring everyone to a place where they no longer need to be led. A leader leads by teaching, not directing. A leader gives individuals the tools to make decisions, plan actions, solve problems, be innovative, work as a true team member, take acceptable, calculated risks, and learn from failure as well as success while leading an (often) dysfunctional team. A leader leads by example rather than by edict…managing people in a transparent “do as I do (not as I say)” manner. A great leader encourages others to “do things better” without being threatened and asks them to “hold him/her accountable” while encouraging the same from those being led.

A leader empowers people to seek input from knowledgeable sources, determine what needs to be done then do it (asking for “forgiveness” (if needed) after the fact) AND taking the accountability for what may (or may not have) happened because of the actions taken. Along with empowering individuals and teams, a leader will take the bullet for a “bad” decision from a team member and give all the praise for positive results. Leaders leverage the power of recognition and credit for a job well done and willingly provide it to those deserving it.

Leaders recognize and quickly admit they do not know everything. They willingly and actively seek information, knowledge, and recommendations from everyone around them. Reaching out to others for knowledge builds a team of willing, excited partners and builds credibility. It shows others how to accomplish objectives that might not readily be accomplished. They build buy in from those that will be directly OR indirectly impacted by any decision before a change, a new direction or a new project is implemented by giving credit, credibility, value, and respect to others’ ideas and contributions.

A true leader provides a safe and secure working environment. Most people either act, react, or do not act due to fear of making a mistake or fear of negative reprisals for anything less than an “expected” result. A leader creates an environment where people know they can make a mistake without reprisal (if they learn from their mistakes AND do not repeat them). A true leader cares about the people they work with as individuals, not just employees. Creating an environment free of fear will increase productivity, creativity, retention, and efficacy while decreasing employee issues. Creating an environment filled with “small talk” may not create a positive environment, however, if it is perceived as being insincere, disruptive, or forced it can harm the environment.  Such conversation can often hinder an employee’s ability to do great things and minimizes the importance of accomplishing the unexpected rather than producing the “norm.”

A leader must have a keen sense of self, be unselfish and willing to give their all to everyone they work with, AND create an atmosphere where everyone can become the very best they can be. A leader who makes everyone else better will, by default, become the best that he or she can be as well.

The Employers’ Association has the tools to help any manager or supervisor become a true leader. Please contact us at 616-689-1167 or tea@teagr.org to learn more.