The Human Element of Great Leadership

The Difference Between Good vs. Great Leaders

I’ve been asked a few times recently to give advice to leaders. I have usually responded by saying that I don’t have enough perspective or experience to have distilled any universal truths that would be credible advice that I think someone else should take. That said, the question keeps coming up, and there are probably a few words I can string together on the topic.

Have no ego

To be a great leader, I have found that you must have no ego whatsoever. Leaders with egos need to feel more important, smarter, needed. This is toxic for a few reasons:

  1. Leaders with egos ensure that people need them. For example, they might hand over most of the reigns, but keep an important step for themselves, so people have to keep coming back to them. Why is this so bad? Well, a team that would crumble without any one single member is a team hobbling on one leg.
  2. Leaders with egos don’t allow a winning ideology to permeate the team, so their team lacks a basic cohesion, depth, and alignment. Instead, people work “for” him. These leaders prefer to be the charismatic, well-known, potentially genius face of the team instead of supporting and resourcing their team members with a unifying purpose and method for success. This means they aren’t succession planning — so when they go, any performance the team was able to achieve before won’t last very long.

Lead from behind

Don’t manage people. If someone can’t manage themselves, they probably don’t belong on our small, high-passion, high-energy team. Making more rules tethering people to their desk at specific hours of the day, telling them how many days they are allowed to not be at the office per year, and telling people exactly how to do their job are all ways of managing people. People that should already know how to handle all of those things (time management, how to do their job, etc.) on their own.

Motivate with Purpose and Goals

In my experience, it’s much more effective to motivate not with carrots and sticks (rewards and punishments, see Drive), but rather with a meaningful purpose and audacious goals.

Fight alongside your team

I think many poor leaders think of themselves as head coach, when they should think of themselves as team captain.

Motivation and Fulfillment

By doing all of these things, we’ve found that we can foster an environment that motivates people to get up in the morning to come to work, and leaves people feeling fulfilled at the end of the day.