After a recent guest lecture, one of the students approached me afterwards and asked me for advice about leadership and management. She was about to become a first-time manager and leader for a six-person team. Later, she emailed me about the same topic. Below is my reply to her.
"Simply because you care about these issues of true leadership and are willing to study, think, and put forth the effort to become a good leader, immediately places you in a favorable position. You will succeed, almost certainly, as a natural consequence. But, whatever advice you take or book you read, ask yourself, "Do I serve those I lead, or do those I lead serve me?" It's a pretty simple question that boils everything extraneous about leadership and management away.
You mentioned to me twice, once in our conversation and again in your email, that you wanted to be "respected." Exercise caution in your pursuit of that goal because it can quickly become motivated by pride and ego. The more you pursue respect from those you lead, the less likely you are to find it. Instead, exercise the behaviors which engender respect-- such as competence in your job, mutual respect for others, courage, a healthy lifestyle, creativity, integrity, humor, and honesty-- and let respect flow to you naturally, if it so chooses. Abraham Lincoln was a prime example of someone who was routinely insulted by those that he led, notably members of his appointed Cabinet and commanders of the Union Army. He would tolerate unbelievable levels disrespect from both groups, as long as he felt that their overall value to the mission overshadowed their insults against him. However, he had his limits of tolerance and would take swift action to remove people from the team when their impact on the mission became undeniably negative. Be watchful when yearning for "respect" from those you lead. It's a subtle and common road to hardship for many new leaders and managers.
From the perspective of traditional text books on leadership and management, my favorite books are "The Leadership Challenge", by Kouzes and Posner; "First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently" by Buckingham and Coffman; and "The Toyota Way", by Jeff Liker. These books helped me realize that I wasn't crazy after all-- at least on issues of leadership and management. The philosophies which seemed so obvious to me, but so contrary to much of corporate America, were, in fact, what most employees hoped for from their business managers and leaders. These books gave me the courage to stand comfortably in the winds of opposition, oftentimes from my peers and occasionally from my supervisors.
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