Note; this post was originally published on BeALeader.
The word “boss” causes me to flinch. Perhaps it’s in memory of the movie Cool Hand Luke where the cruel prison guards were all called “Boss.” When one of my teammates introduces me thus, I inevitably try to readjust with “co-worker.” After all, in the words of Bob Dylan, “We’ve all gotta serve somebody.”
I’m a leader by virtue of the fact that I’m an entrepreneur, grew my company, and hired quite a few people over the years. Very early on I met a savvy organization development coach who turned me onto the literature of business: the world of visions; missions; values; and Balanced Scorecards. I learned about getting the right people on the bus while I was taking Kotter’s Eight Steps of Change, and using SMART objectives.
I’m a believer. In the church of business philosophies, I’ve been sitting in the front pew shouting, “Amen!” I have made mistakes over the years: I’ve gotten angry and yelled; and I’ve committed my share of demotivating moments. I’ve supplied rapid answers when I should have offered deeper questions.
Deep down, I’ve known that the way to lead is to establish core values and vision – vision that others that share my values will want to attain. Knowing, however, and really acting from a place of owned knowledge, can be very different.
In the world of knowledge work, great leaders don’t provide all the answers. If they do, they fail to encourage, coach, or enable their team members to think. Our noble task in the leadership role is to create an environment in which people learn how to learn.
It isn’t difficult for any of us to sit around and devise a mission and core values. We might stumble over the question, “why are you in business” – over the notion that we’re in business to make money. Right? Then we come to realize that no one cares if we make money. Our customers care if we create value for them.
We consider our core values. If fortunate, someone might pose the question, “what are the values that if we took away, you wouldn’t be you anymore?” We might create a short list in a couple of hours – and over a year, might refine it into something more meaningful.
It wasn’t until I removed myself – or that I was removed by circumstances – that I came to understand those core tenets of those business philosophies in a deeper way. When you’re out of the office for such extended periods of time, you must depend on your purpose, values, and vision. Often, when a difficult question needs to be answered, people can ask if it fits the organization’s DNA.
I don’t know if assuming ownership of these basics makes a person a great leader. I have seen, and I do believe, however, that organizations that have come to take ownership of the essentials are places where leaders emerge throughout the organization. And I’d rather see that than be called Boss any day.
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