Over the past 20 years of leading people and teams, I’ve had the privilege to work with, and for, great leaders. I have also worked for some not-so-great leaders. Both experiences were extremely valuable to my personal development. The great ones taught me the importance of servant leadership, humility, and the cornerstone of all leadership: dignity and respect for others. Equally, the not-so-great leaders reinforced that message through their negative actions with people, believing that the human side of leadership was unimportant, and that people were simply another commodity and could be replaced.
My personal leadership development started with my father, who was a leader for most of his career. At work he was highly respected, a man of integrity and character, and it was obvious. But one of my biggest leadership lessons—what I eventually named the burden of leadership--I learned from interacting with him at home.
Have you ever had a boss in which you would need to assess their mood before approaching them? Or have you ever commented to a co-worker, “Stay clear of the boss today, he’s in a foul mood.” My father, who suffered from depression, was like that in his personal life—the weight of his responsibilities affected his mood. At times, I would really need to size up his mood before asking him for something.
Years later, while working for one of the not-so-great leaders, it dawned on me. Why is it my problem that this person is always in a bad mood, never says hello, and yells constantly? Why do I need to assess his mood before approaching?
I finally understood, as leaders, we have a responsibility to our people. To be consistent, fair and predictable in terms of our behavior. We are also human, and we have bad days, but we do have a responsibility to be fair and consistent. In other words, we have the burden of being a leader.
As leaders, we:
Must set the example in everything we do, every day.
Don’t have the luxury of wearing our emotions on our sleeves
Must remember the Golden Rule: Always treat people with dignity and respect.
Lead every minute of every day through words and actions.
I’m certain many professionals and leaders struggle with this at times. As leaders, you have a responsibility to your people, to the company and to yourself to be the best leader you can be. Leading people is a privilege, and a burden. Your willingness to accept both is what makes you special.
Mark Whitten is the U.S. director of operations for Martinrea International, a Tier 1 automotive supplier.