One of the most profound lessons I’ve learned as a leader was when I was managing a tiny team in a previous organisation. I was not just good but one of those would would always go the extra mile for my employer and my team. And yet, I don’t think I showed up as the best version of the leader I ever could.
Why? I was overwhelmed with my own insecurities and even jealously when I overheard some of my team members praising their former manager (who was handling another team) instead of me. All I could think was, “Can’t they see how hard I work for them” or a version of “what’s he doing that I’m not… heck, he’s not even in my league!” In retrospect, I think I wasted precious time pondering on my shortcomings, criticising my team members for being so inconsiderate, and smouldering inside each time they would praise my counterpart.
Of course, I should’ve been sensible enough to see the brighter side. All I needed to do was ask this other manager the secret behind his success with half of my team, even when he’s not managing them anymore. And so, I did. (You didn’t think I would choose be miserable and not do anything about it. Did you?)
Choosing to ask the manager about this “success” was the best thing I could’ve done that time as a leader. It was the logical thing to do because I was hungry to learn more, to be more influential and hence, successful. I chose to spend my time with this person and within a couple of weeks realised that despite my best efforts I couldn’t ignore not just the great divide between our personal values but also our view on leading people.
No, I’m not suggesting this person was a dick. He had several good qualities as a person and a manager. Some of which, I don’t think I can even dream to achieve in this lifetime. But the big question for me was “do I really want to?” And the answer was an emphatic NO! You see, life gives us several opportunities to test our skills, character and attributes as a person and a leader. This was one of them.
I realised that while I’m not the ‘popular’ one among my own team members, I definitely was the one whom they would consult should things head the wrong way or if someone were to save their day. While they appreciated my hands-off and coaching style of leadership, they loved to chat around, gossip and have fun at the workplace. Hence, the preference.
And guess, what? As soon as I realised what was really going on, I stopped worrying and started to explore avenues to develop myself as an even better leader. Because that’s the right thing to do at any stage of your journey to become a Level 5 leader, the one who’s at the Pinnacle state of leadership, where it’s not the popularity but the legacy that counts.
Make it matter.