It’s lonely at the top, or so the saying goes. I don’t agree – I reckon that, if you’re lonely in leadership, then you’re missing an important lesson. Really successful leaders learned fairly early on that no man (or woman) is an island. They’ve worked out that none of us can effectively do it alone. They appreciate the value in working with other leaders, and they know the ‘power of We’.
Of course, ‘the top’ isn’t always a summit inhabited by a single person, and leadership doesn’t necessary mean the CEO or owner. There are many leadership positions in any given organization, some of which are comparative posts. Sharing in leadership is vital, but even more so when you have others in your organization who you lead alongside. There are also those who are in informal or opinion-based leadership by dint of personality, charisma, length of service or other informal scenario that puts them in an influential role.
Leaders who share are aware of the others in their organization at or around their level who are also in leadership roles, and they respect their roles. This means that they aren’t so insecure that they have to be ‘top dog’; they understand that others have similar challenges and responsibilities which are as important to them as their own, and they see these other leaders as assets, stakeholders and mutual partners. They see the potential to work together with these people to lead others in the organization towards common goals.
It sounds crazy but, in many organizations, leaders in these positions end up competing against each other, trying to out do each other or even ‘throwing each other under the bus.’; I’ll never understand why otherwise sensible adults would want to behave this way when they could be sharing the load and working together. There are many potential reasons: paranoia, insecurity, lack of emotional maturity or toxic corporate culture but, regardless of the reason for it, this sort of ongoing power-play can only hurt those who play that game, and even the organization itself.
When you share as a leader, you understand that there can be more than one leader in a group. You value the synergy you find with other leaders, and you peer-mentor each other, almost without knowing. When leaders are aligned in their goals and not trying to compete against each other, the group is more flexible as it is not dependent on one leader. The power of this type of mutually respectful collaborative and consultative leadership cannot be underestimated.
Leaders who share spend time building strategic partnerships with other leaders and influencers. Again, this is not just those in formal leadership positions, but also those informal or unwritten influencers and leaders, who exist in every organization. When you work together, you progress faster – it’s a simple equation. People with influence can get around organizational roadblocks to make things happen. This is why collaboration beats conflict every time.
Petty jealousies and infighting among leaders or star performers damage success and, sadly, they happen all too often. It’s selfish, but people end up taking their eye of the strategic objectives in favour of personal power-plays and one-upmanship games. People like this aren’t interested in the team’s overall result, only the personal glory. They seem to forget that, if the team doesn’t achieve then there will be no personal glory. If it goes too far, this sort of behavior can cripple a company.
When leaders don’t collaborate with others for whatever reason, they are effectively trying to operate in a vacuum. The last time I checked, vacuums aren’t survivable conditions for people. By not seeking out the win:win criteria for all involved, they are failing in the duty of care to the organization and to the people within it, and they are hurting their companies through their myopic decision-making.
At the end of the day, leaders that ‘get’ what it is to share are the kind of people that genuinely care about others. When leaders have real compassion for the people they lead, then their subordinates reciprocate that care and naturally follow, sharing the leader’s vision. You might think that business is the wrong place to be talking about sharing and caring, but it’s this kind of person-to-person interaction and trust-building that helps an organization develop a shared vision and work towards a common goal.
Employees aren’t stupid and, when their leaders don’t care, they can instinctively tell. When the leaders care, but only because it’s good for business, they will equally be found out because it won’t take long for their true motivation to come to the fore. When the compassion is just a front, it will soon come across as the manipulative untruth that it is. Sharing in leadership isn’t optional, and neither is caring. If you don’t share, and you don’t care, you WILL be lonely.
By Mark Frame