In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek sets the bar for what defines a leader. The book as well as Sinek’s TED Talks should be required for anyone aspiring to a leadership role. In short, the author suggests that the real measure of an effective leader is the degree to which she inspires a team to follow her into the heat of any battle or pursuit. The inspiration derives from the belief that the leader, forsaking self interest, operates in the best interest of the team.
Many will scoff at the suggestion, characterizing it as impractical and unrealistic in today’s marketplace. Perhaps this is the case. But it is difficult to debate the idea that there are plenty of corner office occupants few are inspired to follow. Or, that trust exists where a team or tribe perceives those with leadership monikers are driven by self-interest and a preservation instinct.
When a group believes those with position will address defining moments thinking first of their own well-being, not even the grandest title will inspire commitment to a mission.
The bad news here is that absent some measure of trust, the highest potential of the group, team, organization or community will never be realized.
Where there is no trust, real dialogue rarely occurs. Singular perspective shapes direction. Progress and success are measured using benchmarks that are skewed. In this environment the rank-and-file will be certain of one thing: decisions will always be made in favor of those in decision-making positions. Any call to mission is assessed cautiously, while consistently glancing over a shoulder.
In this kind of environment the spirit that gives rise to innovation is stifled. New is the ultimate threat, bringing change to a comfortable status quo. (This may be the reason innovation is often born in the garage start-up or the isolation of eccentricity. It is certainly the reason organizations without a leader’s eye on the future are perpetually slow to make critical changes.)
Here’s the challenge for teams who aspire to endure. Ready or not, tomorrow is coming. It will inevitably bring challenges and change. Survival — never mind stability and growth — increasingly call for a brand of vision that sees beyond the short-term, that is willing to test the status quo, that understands that charting a path into the future might push the boundaries of preconceived convention.
Where this is understood, the management of daily commotion as discussed in this article on forbes.com is never mistaken for leadership.
Sinek speaks of a willingness to march into any fray, and pay any price based on the belief that leadership would sooner sacrifice self-interest than the well-being of the team. In the context of this culture the potential of the team flourishes. Change and innovation are not enemies. And the challenges of tomorrow represent opportunity.