Simon Sinek delivered a talk that I watched on YouTube. Much of it was taken from his book, Leaders Eat Last. It was so powerfully impactful that I wanted to share with you some thoughts I gleaned from it.
What does it mean to be a great parent? I can’t tell you five things. I just know that if you want to be a great parent, you have to be a continual student of parenting. It’s not a list of “to-dos.” It is a lifestyle. It begins with realizing that you have a great ongoing responsibility for the growth and development of this human. You do whatever it takes to learn how to do it. You talk to your parents, you read books, you listen to podcasts, you make parenting well your lifestyle. What does it mean to be a great leader? Pretty much the same as being a great parent. You take responsibility for these people, for their care and well-being and growth. You do whatever it takes to lead them well and make sure their well-being is your major concern. You join groups, talk to others, seek out information, study great leaders, listen to podcasts, and read books. You make their well-being your main concern.
If you want to become the leader who makes a consistent positive contribution, you will learn to do things you originally didn’t do well. You will learn to listen, give and receive feedback well, receive criticism, and learn how to ask significant questions. You watch leaders and learn to be good at things they are good at that you weren’t good at before. For instance, the leader everyone wishes they had remembers their name and more. Don’t give yourself a pass and say, “I’m just bad at names.” You can learn. If you think it is that important, you will. It’s a lifestyle. You have to decide to do it. Make it a goal. Hitting goals feels good. You will be so glad.
Doing the work of leading people well, helping them grow and become, feels so good. But it’s easier to hire fast and fire fast. It’s hard to build a trusting relationship. Let’s go back to parenting again. It’s really hard to be a good parent. In a relationship of trust, there has to be deep commitment and time invested. It’s much easier to be a great uncle, a favorite aunt, or not have kids. When you are a great parent, the relationships are close and demand much of you. You have to face your own weaknesses every day. It’s exhausting. The same is true of a great leader. We have to have relationships of deep commitment and trust. We have to face our own weaknesses every day—it’s exhausting, so we choose not to.
It is important to shift our mindset to the infinite game that never ends, in a world that is finite driven. The pressures are overwhelming to play the finite game. The infinite game demands that you stay in the game, and that takes courage. Courage comes from relationships. Trapeze artists gain courage from knowing they can’t do it alone. They have deep relationships of trust with people who will support them; have their backs. To play the infinite game, there must be deep relationships of trust—we do it together. That’s the mindset of a great leader.
When we hear the stories of people who made extreme sacrifices, and the person who took a huge risk for another is asked why they did it, the answer is always, “They would do it for me. To be a great leader, you must build that kind of relationships. There will be days when we have to die to ourselves. We need to have people around us who will have our backs, and we will have theirs.
Commit yourself to a great cause and commit yourself to building people around you who choose to commit as well. When you do, you will leave the place and the people better than you found them. That is living an infinite life, beyond yourself.
Don’t try to influence what you can’t influence. But you can take care of the people around you, even your own boss. When you commit to building people, you will exhibit empathy. For instance, you will find yourself saying things like, “Hey boss, you were really hard on us today. I’m concerned about you. Are you okay? Can I help?”
Leaders take responsibility for the people around them. This is what it means to be a leader. You see that the people want to come to work because the environment is for them, they are allowed to be themselves, their story is known, and they are appreciated. They are tight and committed because they feel valued. They will do it for the good of the cause when they believe in the leader who believes in them. The infinite game is always driven by something bigger than the profit. These leaders want the company to outlast them, and they transmit it to their team by inviting them to be themselves; by showing they are cared about as human beings, not just part of the machinery.
Be the leader you wish you had. Take care of your team. It doesn’t matter whether they are “above you, below you, or around you.” Take care of them and your clients like they were family.
When you are putting a jigsaw puzzle together, the first thing you do is set up the box cover, the picture of the thing you are trying to make, in front of everyone around the table so everyone knows what you are all working toward. Everyone has to be able to see the picture and then realize that they each have a piece or two of the puzzle. They must be willing to give it, so all of them together can be part of something more.
And you must practice great leadership. Neither great parenting nor great leadership comes through theory. It comes from actively practicing.
What could you do right now to be more of the leader you wish you had?