The Good Side of Leadership

May 1, 2023

How aspiring leaders can guide their followers toward success

Leadership has been a fundamental aspect of human society since ancient times. The role of kings was not only to govern their kingdom but also to lead their armies into battle. Their duty was to defend their people and ensure the prosperity of their kingdom. Heroes also played a big part in shaping the traits of leadership throughout history. Hercules, Achilles, and Perseus, to name a few, demonstrated incredible courage, humility and superhuman abilities captured in old Greek Mythology.

Although times have changed, the core values of leadership have remained the same. From stories of bravery like David and Goliath in the past to modern-day startup founders challenging established corporations, the traits of great leaders have transcended time.

Aspiring leaders in any field should expect to cultivate the essential qualities of courage, ethics, and strategic thinking to guide their followers toward success.

What should you expect if you are entertaining the idea of becoming a good leader in your field?

Leadership is scary, and it is supposed to be that way

Sometimes doing the right thing is hard and most definitely scary. But that defines leaders; regardless of whether they are scared, they take action and embrace the challenge.

There are many examples from the business world, from devising strategies that hopefully will be successful to taking on projects or challenges that don’t have obvious solutions.

Going through the years, one challenge at a time, with successes and failures under your belt, you will build more confidence. Both success and failure will teach you valuable lessons. Either way, you will grow. You need to compound your learnings; that’s how you will improve. Like battle scars, success and failure will make you much wiser and more confident in your abilities.

Being scared or worried about a new critical project or task is ok. The difference is what you do about it. Do you meet the challenge head-on or shy away from it? That is what matters.

The things that scare you are also the things that most likely will make you grow the most.

Stand for something

Sometimes it is hard to know what is right and what is not. However, a good set of principles can help guide you through the ”battleground” of life, so long as your principles don’t change frequently and you live by them consistently.

If you value sincerity above everything else, you must be sincere. If hard work is something you believe in, then you need to work hard.

People will want to know what you stand for and what you believe in. They will look up to you as a role model, and if they believe you are not true, saying something and doing something else, they will lose trust.

Principles will help you with harder decisions down the road. It’s the same reason big companies have values: to guide organizational behaviors. When in doubt, default to your principles. This will make you authentic, and even if not everyone may resonate with your views, they will respect you for standing up for something.

You need to make others succeed

The same principle from ancient times still holds valid. As a leader, people look to you to advance the mission that you represent in order to bring more prosperity to everyone that is part of that pursuit. In short, everyone is better off because they are following you.

Let’s say you are the manager of a team; people will look up to you to advance the mission of the company and achieve the goals of the team while also advancing their careers. There is something for everyone that paints a win-win situation for the company, the team and individuals. You will need to align the individual interests with the interest of the team, which should be aligned with the interest and vision of the company. Sounds easy, but it’s harder in practice.

You can leverage OKRs or other techniques, but the most important thing is to convince people that working at X and achieving Y will benefit everyone. Sometimes this step is skipped or poorly understood, and people have a hard time understanding how doing X is helpful for them or the company.

You need to take time to communicate, articulate, present your thinking and be ready to take on feedback. There is no over-communicating in this instance.

To be or not to be an asshole

There are cases where you are required to defend your team. Not like in the old days with swords and cavalry but adapted to our modern society. People from your team will look to you for “protection” in their journey of advancing the team’s mission.

Members from other teams or high-rank executives may push you or your team for various reasons. Depending on the context, it may be the case when you need to push back and shield your team for them to succeed.

Sometimes you can be deemed an ethical asshole given that you don’t follow your personal agenda but believe in something bigger and greater — the team or company mission-. You will not be able to please everyone, and that is ok.

The team will appreciate it and trust you more as their leader because you can protect and shield them so they can contribute to the mission.

Make people believe in themselves and in something bigger

You have to inspire people to get them to be the best version they can be.

You first have to do two things: the first is to believe in yourself, and the second is to believe that people have immense power inside and can achieve anything they put their minds to. It’s the most fundamental belief you need to coach and develop people.

There are not many good coaches that don’t share this conviction.

The reason is simple; coaches work with the energy and capabilities of individuals, the same as leaders. So for you as a leader to unleash the potential and make your team achieve incredible things, you first need to believe they are capable of greatness.

How do you make them believe in themselves? There are multiple ways to do it, but first, you must believe in them. After that you can help them step by step to do things that they thought were impossible. Slowly they will start believing in themselves.

Talk the talk and walk the walk

You need to lead by example. You said you have principles and values; you have to respect them yourself. You said you would do X; you must go and do X.

You have to build trust with your team, but how should you do it?

Building trust is a simple process: you need to say what you will do, do it and then show that you have done it.

Do this multiple times, and everyone will start believing you are trustworthy.

If there are tough times and the team is in crunch mode to reach a deadline, you must stay in the trenches with them. Nothing is more discouraging and de-motivating than a leader giving a speech on hard times and then going away to an exotic island for a 4 weeks vacation just before the deadline. There are exceptions, but these have to be treated with care; the optics of you talking the talk and not walking the walk yourself is problematic and will hover over your perception of your leadership style.

Skin in the game

Never ask of people things that you would not do yourself. Always have skin in the game — having skin in the game will help you align your goals with your team.

Kings defended their kingdoms and charged in front of their armies because the stakes were high for them. If they lost a battle, they would have likely lost their life. Their drive to succeed was ultimate survival, the most skin in the game that anybody could have.

The same applies to leaders; they should have skin in the game for the mission they are representing, the team, or the organization they are leading. If everyone is better off, then the leader should also benefit. For the corporate environment, this translates into aligning your success with the team and organizational success. If you make the pie bigger, everyone is better off, and you should get a slice. If you advance your team’s mission and vision and help people advance their careers, you will be successful and rewarded as a leader. If you fail to make people better/successful due to your leadership, then most likely, the team will fail, and you will also fail with it.

Leadership has been and will always be important for our society, its success and prosperity.

In today’s world, it is less about fighting wars and more about organizations, teams and corporate politics. We look at leaders to do the right thing, stand up for us and make our organizations or societies more prosperous so that everyone is better off. But, with great power and influence, there must also be great responsibility, and so, the hot seat of leadership is not an easy place to be.

In the end, if you have good values, are authentic, stand up for something greater than yourself and show courage, you are on the path to becoming a great leader.

The Good Side of Leadership was originally published in Entrepreneur’s Handbook on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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