In The Earned Life, a film exploring the legacy of Marshall Goldsmith, Goldsmith stresses the idea that the job of a leader is not to be the smartest or most impressive person in the room; it’s to get the best out of everybody in order to have the best team possible.
During the film, Golsmith takes a moment to reflect on a simple Buddhist idea: Every time I take a breath, it’s a new me. This is, in Goldsmith’s view, true for each person. People are constantly changing, so each time you come to a meeting or introduce a new person to a team, you must be able to adapt in order to get the most out of each person’s skill set. Only when you are able to develop this kind of adaptability will you finally be able to create the best team possible.
As a leader, you are likely quite busy. You are working on your own personal goals, which may be causing some level of stress, anxiety, or frustration. Is that getting in the way of your ability to be empathetic? If so, it’s important to recognize this and work to shift into a mindset where empathy is possible because it can be a game changer in any company and with any team of employees.
When leaders take the time to practice empathy and get emotionally aligned with their whole team, they gain insights that can be key in leadership. Through empathy, leaders can see moments of upset, stress, and anxiety. They can understand the limitations their team members are facing and work to bring out the full potential of each person without pushing them too far.
Often, when a leader fails to empathize with team members, the team members will find support in each other. While this can be a good thing for a while as it takes the pressure off the leader, in the end it can lead the team to begin complaining or gossiping behind the leader’s back as a way to express their frustration. If this is allowed to go on, it can completely block the progress of a project and undermine the success of a team.
As a leader, you have the power to define the kind of energy that exists at your organization and within your team. Engagement is what helps you do this.
Imagine working on a specific project. Often, the project first requests your attention. You must think about it and make plans to carry it out. Next, you will need to give energy to the project to get the various parts moving. Once you have attention and energy, you can develop engagement. This may include bringing your team together to brainstorm or decide on each person’s role. When you become engaged, you can breathe life into an activity. This is what leads to progress.
Engagement cannot exist without attention and focus. If you’ve ever had a garden, you know that if you engage with it—water the plants, pull the weeds, and so on—your plants will grow. But if you simply pay attention to it by observing it, or offer limited energy by watering the plants sporadically, wild species will take over, killing your beloved plants.
When you pay attention, you create awareness, which opens you to changes in behavior as well as creative input from others. From attention and awareness, focus can develop. It’s the sense of focus and interest in an activity that can lead to engagement.
Being transparent as a leader is about building trust. When people around you feel that you are giving them all of the information, they will trust what you say, and they will trust that nothing is being hidden. If a lack of transparency is the status quo, it can breed gossip and conspiracy theories. Leaving room for rumors to spread is a sure way to decrease trust and increase friction within a company or team.
Sharing details about resources, strategies, and processes can help your team members understand not only why certain things are happening but what their role looks like and how it may develop. Presenting everyone with all the available information can shut down negative opinions based in gossip. Those kinds of negative opinions are much harder to manage than critiques of specific information that is given.
Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi. Everyone has heard of these great leaders, people who altered the course of history through their actions. These leaders demonstrated a great deal of courage through their goals, but being courageous does not have to mean changing an entire country’s ideology.
Courage can be shown on a smaller scale by sharing honest thoughts and promoting positive changes at a company or within a team. The world needs more people who are willing to stand up for the values and for what they believe to be right. Being complacent is easier than being courageous, but complacency rarely leads to honest, positive change.
As a leader seeking to practice courage and work toward positive change, it’s best to begin by building your tribe. These are people who understand and support your philosophy, values, and actions. If you work to create a group of like-minded people, this helps you as you move forward with your goals. Fortunately, finding your tribe nowadays is significantly easier, as we have access to social media, networking spaces, and online communication where we can share our ideas more freely with others.
In the opening scene of An Earned Life, the viewer sees Marshall Goldsmith on the phone, answering questions such as, “How many steps did you take today?” and “Did you do your best to find meaning?” What you learn later in the film is that this same routine happens every single day. His assistant checks in with him based on a list that Marshall himself has created based on what he hopes to achieve on a daily basis. This is how he maintains discipline in all that he does.
In Western cultures, many people hear discipline and immediately think back to their days at school. The term has earned a bad reputation for this reason. But the author is not talking about discipline as it relates to punishment. The author is talking about discipline as it relates to dedication. When you practice discipline as it relates to your goals, you can sustain certain behaviors, such as eating healthy food for dinner each day, exercising each morning after waking up, or reading ten pages of a book before going to sleep. Therefore, discipline can be a positive factor in any life, especially the lives of leaders.
While discipline helps to build trust, integrity can help to set it, like cement between bricks. For leaders, it often happens that the people around you watch your every step, not necessarily because they are waiting for you to make a mistake but because they are looking for a role model.
You may have noticed the way that many people seem to take political scandals personally, as if the perceived moral failing of this well-known figure were a personal insult. This is because people look to leaders to be role models for all of society. Many of the scandals we see around politicians happen when the individual has been “discovered” deviating from whom they claimed to be. It may be related to religion, sexual orientation, lifestyle, or just about anything. In most cases, if the person had simply been up front about it from the beginning, it never would have caused an issue, but the misrepresentation develops into a perceived lack of integrity.
Remember, integrity is about trust, so if leaders hide parts of their personality because they think it won’t be good for their image, it is likely to cause problems when it comes out later, as people will feel they can’t trust them. It’s much better to be authentic and open about who you are from the beginning. If those around you can accept you with your human flaws, there will be nothing standing in the way of them trusting you without reservation.