The Gift & Responsibility of Leadership

When I was in Ethiopia earlier this month with a photographer and someone who works for me, we got into a car accident driving on the highway. The SUV we were in was going too fast, our driver miscalculated and we smashed into a three wheeled “tuk-tuk”. It screeched along the side of the SUV and was then catapulted to the other side of the road. With our windows down, glass from the tuk-tuk’s windshield showered across the inside of our car. We ended up in the ditch on the opposite of the road amongst an eerie calm.

I think I was the first to speak, asking if everyone was okay. Folks were slow to answer but luckily everyone was in the clear. Not so lucky for the tuk-tuk driver. Within minutes, we were swarmed by hundreds of locals attracted by the crash. We were told to stay in the vehicle and to lock the doors because things might not go well if the driver was badly injured (or worse). A foreigner had been shot just a couple months prior, in a similar situation.

Suddenly the weight of the situation hit me. I was responsible for the lives of the people with me. I was more than a manager – it was my job to look after their well-being and to keep them safe. The good news started to spread that the tuk-tuk driver was okay and the crowd soon dissipated (somehow or another we were robbed during the commotion but that’s another story). Ever since that incident, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be an effective leader. This topic is practically a cliche in the publishing world but I wanted to share some of my thoughts – I’d love to hear yours.

sextant2I believe that effective leaders:

  • are transparent and consistent. A beacon around which employees can navigate and chart their course.
  • are obligated to provide ongoing feedback, both glowing praise or difficult feedback – to be used as ongoing course corrections.
  • should always try to hire people smarter than they are, empower them and help to make them successful.
  • encourage people to try things and fail productively.
  • should check their ego at the door. It runs counter to the coaching dynamic.
  • should hope (not fear) the next “generation” of workers has better ideas than they do.
  • should lead be genuine example not only to their direct reports but to everyone in the organization and beyond.
  • can and should learn from their teams every day because leadership is a two-way street.

There are hundreds of other ways to think about leadership. As I said, the business literature runs deep on this topic but to me, these principles are core. Follow them and we can help and protect those who work around us.

2 thoughts on “The Gift & Responsibility of Leadership

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