A distinguished woman rose to speak in the front of a room of 40 fellow employees during a Total Leadership workshop I was conducting earlier this week at a large pharmaceutical company’s headquarters.
“Joyous laughter — this is the sound I hear throughout the home I have built and now maintain for mentally ill women in Puerto Rico. They are surrounded by people who love and care for them. They are enjoying life.”
Juana, let’s call her, was telling the brief (one-minute) story of her personal leadership vision; a description of the impact you’re having on your world and the legacy you’re creating 15 years from now. When Juana sat down, one of her close colleagues said, “I’ve known you so long yet I never knew about this part of who you are. Wow!” I couldn’t help but ask Juana how I could support her pursuit of her vision. All of us were moved, and felt inclined to contribute.
People will not follow a leader if it is only to the leader’s benefit. We are social animals, using networks of interactions for live our lives. The most invigorating visions are those that lead people to a better place. Not to one that simply makes the leader wealthy.
After hearing a set of examples, I then ask the whole group to describe what was inspiring in what was just said and heard. Invariably, it is the people who speak not about their own achievement but, rather, about how they’re helping someone else who draw the most powerful emotional responses and pronounced support.
Having heard many personal vision statements in the last few days, in different groups (including, through an interpreter, securities industry executives visiting The Wharton School from China), I was struck, once again, by the power of this very this simple, yet critically important idea. Serve others and others will want to serve you. This paradox is often difficult to grasp, especially in your early years. Yet is seems to be a universal truth: People are more likely to pay attention to you — and they are more inclined to help you — when you declare yourself committed to serving others.
It is a paradox of a social animal – simply doing what is best for the individual is not as successful as doing what is best for the group. The chances for survival are much greater when the power of the group is brought into play. That is why we developed this way. Group dynamics determine what gets done.
So, an effective leader is one that can harness the group but the group evolved to really like what benefits the group, not just the leader. Thus, an effective leader is one who works for the group not just for themselves.
This is not to say that leaders can not utilize the group needs in order to create benefits for the leader. It does suggest, however, that the best leaders are those that at least appear to be serving the group. In most cases, the more the leader appears to just be gaining power purely for self-aggrandizement the less likely they are to maintain the interest of their followers.