In the early years of my career, I used to think that leaders distinguished themselves by rising above their people, so that was my goal. It was the cream of the crop theory. That was a mistake. What I’ve learned – and what has made a complete difference for me – is that leaders distinguish themselves by rising with their people, not above them.
Great leaders take people with them on the journey. They don’t go by themselves. If you’re going along all by yourself, you are not a leader. You might be a self-made, successful person, but you’re not a leader. You might even have recognition as a leader, but you are not truly leading people like you could be. To be a leader, you have to make a decision: Are you going to be a tour guide or a travel agent? Let me explain.
Travel agents can give you brochures and tell you about the trip, while having never even been to that destination. They get the tickets for you and send you off somewhere. You don’t want to lead like a travel agent. Instead, you want to be a tour guide. You want to take people to a place you know well and have spent time in.
You want to bring your people along with you and say, “Let me show you something. I’m going to take you places where I’ve been and lived. I want to tell you all about them as we go.”
What is the downside for the leader who tries to rise above his or her people? Leaders who feel that they should be separated from others and who mistakenly feel that leaders should rise above their people, have a number of detrimental things that can happen to them.
Here are just a few of the things that I have experienced:
- I was lonely.
We’ve all heard that it is lonely at the top, haven’t we? Well, I was at the top, and yes, I was lonely. (By the way, I know now that it wasn’t a leader who came up with that saying. Think about it. If you’re at the top and you’re all alone, then nobody’s following you.) I realized I was successful; I just wasn’t a successful leader.
If I were you, I’d get off the mountain and go find the people. As soon as I did that, I began to open up a whole new realm of relationships and leadership that I had never experienced.
- I seldom asked for help.
The reason I seldom asked for help is because I thought it was a sign of weakness. I thought that I had to be Mr. Answer Man. Why would a leader ask somebody for help? After all, that would make the leader kind of like the people, and after a while, you could be a commoner if you weren’t careful.
But reality set in and I quickly discovered that sooner or later, everyone needs help, and admitting it does not make you less of a leader. In fact, it helped me become a better leader because it bridged a gap between myself and those who followed me.
- I was very position conscious.
As a young leader, I was always making sure that I had my title, my position and my rights. Let me tell you, leaders come from all walks of life, and they often lead people without the benefit of a position or a title. They do it by building influence with others. People who are focused on their position are too wrapped up in rights and responsibilities to influence anyone. They are too busy protecting themselves instead of spending their time influencing others.
- I was very competitive.
I became very competitive during my initial leadership development process, because t I was always trying to beat someone else. People are not apt to follow you if your goal is to defeat them and make a loser out of them. Leaders encourage people and make them feel like winners. As soon as I learned that I was working with the people around me, rather than working against them, I began to influence them in ways I hadn’t before. They began to see me as their leader rather than a competitor.
Remember, the most successful people realize that they can only make it as a team. They can’t do it if all they seek it recognition and titles for themselves. They can’t do it if they are competing against those who can help them the most.
Make a commitment to rise with your people, to take them along on your journey, and you will see them follow you in ways you have not seen before.
John Maxwell, is the author of “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.”