Leadership is about knowing and caring about your people
Columnist Harvey Mackay says a boss drives the people, whereas a leader coaches them.
A young prince, deposed when an enemy overran his kingdom, fled to a neighboring realm where a friend ruled as king. He hoped his friend would grant him a new kingdom. Instead, the king gave him 100 sheep.
Surprised and puzzled, the prince took his sheep out to a field. Soon a pack of wolves attacked and killed all the sheep.
The prince told his friend what had happened, and the king ordered that the prince be given 50 sheep. But again the wolves came, ravaging his flock. He returned to the king, and this time was given 25 sheep.
But now the prince thought to himself, "If I don't take care of these sheep, I won't get any more." So he built fences and hired guards. In a short time his herd grew to 500 sheep.
When he told his friend, the king ordered that the prince be given a nearby territory to rule.
"Why now?" the prince asked.
The king replied: "When you first came to me, you took leadership for granted. Today you understand that to lead wisely, you must take care of others. This is what I wanted you to learn."
Leadership is not about control. It's about taking care of and concentrating on your people. Get to know them as human beings who want respect from you.
Effective leaders demonstrate three traits that are especially important: compassion, authenticity and consistency.
Compassion is defined as "a sense of shared suffering, most often combined with a desire to alleviate the suffering of another and to show special kindness to them." The Golden Rule is clearly based on the concept of compassion.
When you show your people that they are more than drones who show up to get the job done, they will see you as more than just the paycheck dispenser. Let them know you understand they have lives beyond their working hours, and that you value their contribution to the success of the operation.
Leaders must learn to sacrifice for others. Take the example of the famous general Alexander the Great, who led his army across a desert. After 11 days out, he and all the soldiers were near death from thirst. A soldier came up to him and offered him a cup of precious water.
Alexander asked, "Is there enough there for 10,000 men?"
When the soldier shook his head no, Alexander poured the water out on the desert sands, refusing to take even a sip.
Authentic leaders are genuine and believable. They are trustworthy. Trust is central to leadership. People must be able to trust that their leaders are doing the right thing for them as well as for their customers.
Leaders need to be consistent. People should always know what is expected of them and how they will be treated. Consistency develops routines and builds momentum.
Managers and leaders must be consistent in their behavior and attitude. This sets a good example and eases concerns. Trust is built upon the foundation of consistency.
Leadership is so much more than just bossing people around. While almost everyone has a boss of some kind, the fortunate ones also have a good leader. Harry Gordon Selfridge, developer of one of the largest department stores in London, achieved success by being a leader rather than a boss. He said this of the two types of executives:
"The boss drives the people; the leader coaches them.
"The boss depends upon authority; the leader on goodwill.
"The boss says 'I'; the leader, 'We.'
"The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown.
"The boss knows how it is done; the leader shows how.
"The boss says 'Go'; the leader, 'Let's go.'"
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower used a simple device to illustrate the art of leadership. Laying an ordinary piece of string on a table, he'd illustrate how you could easily pull it in any direction.
"However, try and push it," he cautioned, "and it won't go anywhere. It's just that way when it comes to leading people."
Eisenhower, who went on to become president, understood that you can't push people around. You must work with them and pull them along.
Mackay's Moral: Leadership is the only ship that doesn't pull into a safe port in a storm.
Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached at
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or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.