One way to find out whether a leader has a “you-first” perspective is to ask, “Do others grow as individuals under this person’s leadership?” While benefiting from this leader’s compassion, do others become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to develop a “you-first” attitude?
The following qualities define a leader who is committed to being last rather than first:
1. Commitment to the growth of people
In their book The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner write, “Any leadership practice that increases another’s sense of self-confidence, self-determination, and personal effectiveness makes that person more powerful and greatly enhances the possibility of success.”
A commitment to growing people is not a temporary fix, a quick solution to a problem, or a short-term shot in the arm that helps them only today. Commitment to growth is a long-term investment in other people. It increases their opportunities to grow, learn, and use what they have learned to its greatest benefit. When their growth multiplies, the organization’s growth and maturity multiplies.
Good leaders are too often viewed as being great verbal communicators and decision makers. While these attributes are important, leaders need to expand their leadership style to include a deep commitment to listening to others. How can an effective leader understand the needs of his or her employees, customers, suppliers, or market without listening intently to them? Psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers remarked, “Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.”
What made a difference for me was when I finally grasped the concept of listening with the intent to understand. I had always listened with the intent to respond. The entire time I was listening, my mind was developing responses, recording counterpoints, cataloging quick points that I was sure the other person would find helpful when I responded. Listening with the intent to respond is not compassionate. It is not humble. It’s self-focused. Listening with the intent to understand is indeed focused on the other person.
As I work with leaders and spend time listening with the intent to understand, I’m amazed at how much they are willing to share with me when they know I fully intend not to just hear them but also to understand.
Both self-awareness and general awareness direct leaders to better understand situations and people. Robert Greenleaf wrote, “Awareness is not a giver of solace—it is just the opposite. It is a disturber and an awakener. Able leaders are usually sharply aware and reasonably disturbed. They are not seekers after solace. They have their own inner serenity.”
Awareness helps leaders discern how to properly put others first.
This is identifying with and understanding another’s situation, feelings, and motives. People need to know they are accepted and recognized for their special gifts and talents.
One of the greatest assets of a “you-first” leader is the ability to approach another person as a healer in a spirit of help and compassion.
6. Persuasion over power
Many times when a job is hard to do, poor leaders rely on sheer power rather than persuasion. The compassionate leader seeks to engage others rather than force compliance. There’s a desire to build consensus rather than use authoritarian power. Compelling stories, sometimes called parables help people see not only a different perspective but often how things can be better for them. Power trips and plays deflate people and do not allow them to think for themselves.
This list of six characteristics of a “you-first” leader is by no means exhaustive, but each quality is fundamental if you want compassion to be a key component of your leadership style.