I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of leadership in an organization. This may be because I am a C-level employee managing a not-for-profit organization, or that my father was a street gang leader in the Philippines in the 1950s, or that my great uncle was a guerrilla warfare soldier during World War II. Leadership is in my DNA. I’ve always been fascinated by the way leadership manifests itself within a body of people, the behavior of those in charge, and the decision-making process leaders take to achieve their goals.
What makes a great leader? In his 2014 TedTalk, Simon Sinek, management theorist for the Rand Corporation and advisor to the US military, proposes that good leadership starts with safety and trust. Instilling the feeling of safety is imperative to establishing trust and building mutually beneficial relationships. Here are some other interesting points that Sinek presents on leadership:
- Leadership is a choice not a rank.
- A leader is a person who chooses to look after the person left of them and the person right of them despite rank.
- Great leaders would never sacrifice the people to save the numbers. They would sooner sacrifice the numbers to save the people. They value heart count vs. head count.
- When people feel protected by leadership in an organization they will trust and cooperate.
- We call them leaders, because they go first. We call them leaders, because they take the risk before anyone else does. We call them leaders, because they choose to sacrifice so their people may gain. And when they do, the natural response is that their people then may sacrifice for them.
If these elements are key indicators of strong leadership, how do individuals respond when strong leadership is lacking? As a member of a senior management team, how do I approach performance issues in my employees? How do I determine a course of action to improve the internal climate and moral at work?
- When was the last time you truly trusted the person or group of people in which you worked? What was the outcome?
- When was the last time you felt unsafe, unsure, or threatened within a group dynamic or situation? What was the outcome then?
Life is complicated and times are hard for many working Americans. I’m not sure if any of us really recovered from the Recession of 2008. If employees are bringing the stress of everyday life into their jobs, what are we, as leaders, doing to alleviate that tension? While tight budgets and shareholders may not always allow us the opportunity to promote as regularly as we would like, expand benefits, or offer additional bonuses and vacation days, are there other ways to enhance morale within an organization? Beyond career growth opportunities and pay rate increases, could building the security and trust within the organization be an affordable way to increase collaboration and organizational productivity?
Leaders of organizations, causes, or social groups have a real and difficult responsibility to the people they manage. Our number one job is the people. Product comes second. Without people, there is no manufacturing plant, there are no managers, there is no one to do the work within the work place. Businesses start with a dream, a founder’s vision. The vision is based in belief. Belief is created for and held by the heart of the people. It always starts with the people.
I urge all individuals who see themselves as leaders, to use your powers for good. Make decisions that create environments of safety and security for everyone. Leaders, you are in a unique role to transform a culture. Use your powers wisely so that those who work for you will willingly and passionately bring your vision to life. And maybe, just maybe, these empowered individuals might also in return change the world.
Tahra Millan is an educator, speaker, and not for profit administrator committed to mentorship and arts advocacy. She works with organizations and young professionals to help them find meaning and purpose with the hopes of leaving this world a better place than when we arrived. Tahra lives in Carmel, New York with her husband and two kids.
To listen to the Simon Sinek 2014 TedTalk click here.
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