Pattern 2: Practice Benevolent Leadership
“A leader is best when people barely know that he exists.He is the teacher who succeeds without taking credit. And, because credit is not taken, credit is received.”
-- Lao Tzu, 6th Century BC
Extraordinary success is achieved by making those around you successful.
At first blush, career success seems to hinge upon personal performance and outperforming others around you. That’s what many people believe is the route to get promoted. Most see climbing the corporate ladder as a treacherous journey - the higher you climb, the more cutthroat and nasty the environment.
Not necessarily. Happily, the facts show that the most successful individuals populating the top rung of the corporate ladder are more often those who can attract top talent and inspire them to exceptional levels of performance. When we examined the experiences of hundreds of top performing executives, it was apparent that they were the beneficiaries of the talents and performance of their peers, subordinates, and superiors.
This fact by itself is not unusual. Nearly all of us have worked with exceptional teams at some point in our careers. We may have been rewarded for our association with a truly outstanding boss, or recognized for the superior performance of our subordinates. What is unusual about the most successful professionals, however, is the consistency of this occurrence. They almost always seem to be surrounded by other top performers.
In our survey we asked people to describe a particularly successful executive they knew. “Extraordinarily successful executives,” it turns out, were not perceived as overly self-interested. Quite the opposite was true. Nearly 90 percent were described as being concerned about the careers of their subordinates as much or more than their own careers.
Further, a mere four percent were described as being most concerned with their own careers. The aggressive, “take no prisoners” executive represented less than one in 20 of the top executives we identified. Our research clearly demonstrates that a leadership approach focused on the success of others is truly a significant pattern among successful executives. We call this Benevolent Leadership.
Benevolent leaders may have various interpersonal styles – some are humble and self-effacing, others are charismatic, and other still are demanding task masters. But regardless of style, they all create an environment of open communication, honesty and confidence, delegating both minor and critical tasks. Moreover, they demonstrate how the success of the team directly benefits each team member.
In today’s skeptical business environment, where one crisis after another has come to light, the Benevolent Leadership approach is more important and appropriate than ever. People long to work in an environment where bold aspirations for success are clearly defined and commonly shared, and team behavior is governed by a strong set of ethics and core values.
Perhaps most importantly, when the leader’s attention is focused squarely on the success of team members, strong results, organizational performance, and employee loyalty are achieved as a natural end result.
The benevolent leader maximizes performance through facilitation. She eliminates barriers for subordinates and leads with authority, even though at times appearing to be just one of the pack.
It’s easy to know when a benevolent leader is in charge. The tell tale signs? Information and authority flow freely. Honesty abounds. People feel free to question authority without retribution. Creativity reigns. Each member of the team feels just as accountable to one another as to the leader. With a benevolent leader, the environment of work is changed for the better.
The notion of Benevolent Leadership could not be more timely. There has been a notable diminution in the most basic levels of trust between employee and organization
We have all watched with horror the recent parade of executive misconduct, greed, theft and fraud that has lined the pockets of CEOs with cash while their unassuming employees were wiped out, left only with the baggage of their previous employers tarnished image. Employees have trusted their business leaders with the health of their companies and the strength of their investments. Sadly, in many cases, this basic level of trust has been betrayed.
In the end, it is the ability to create an environment in which subordinates, peers, and even your superiors want to work – a place where they feel they can maximize their own personal success – that maximizes an individual executive’s chances of greatest personal career success.
To position yourself for success, create success for others. To advance your career, seek to advance the careers of others. Take the most blame, give the most credit, set ambitious objectives and let your people strive to realize them, holding people accountable. Excel in giving direct feedback and hands-on mentoring and you will reap the rewards of consistently better teams and consistently higher performance levels from team members. Over time you will create a virtual army of professionals willing to fight in your corner.
Read onto Pattern 3!
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This extract is taken from The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers by James M. Citrin and Richard A. Smith, published by Random House. Order your copy now!