by Dan Pontefract
Look around. What do you see? If you’re like me, you see a world desperately in need of your help. It matters not if it’s at work, home, on holiday or at the park. People everywhere—across all walks of life—are yearning for a stronger form of humanity to step forward. The pandemic is clearly illustrating this need. How we care about and treat others is in need of an inquest.
Now ask yourself this question. When was the last time you had an honest exchange with another person, one that was so moving it might have even changed your life (let alone theirs)? While we often hear the mantra that leaders are in the people business, something continues to be lost in translation.
Let me make it clear: you are in the relationship business. Your number one and irrefutable goal is to focus your leadership on the development and sustainability of relationships. They could be with your family, neighbors, team members, bosses, partners, customers, suppliers or even competitors. The entirety of leadership focuses on your exchanges with people and how to make them more meaningful and mutually productive.
Sadly, far too many leaders possess an ingrained cognitive dissonance—a formidable belief that we are fair, kind and unfailing and so perfectly relatable—yet we can easily fall into the trap of acting in ways that are far from benevolent. We of course do not see this blind spot—we deny it, insisting to ourselves “it’s the other person.”
Caring for and about others means acknowledging your humanity and avoiding falling into the cognitive dissonance trap, which will cripple your ability to be relatable, and will consequently impact your team and what this group of good people are hopeful of achieving on your behalf.
America’s first female self-made millionaire, Sarah Breedlove—known as Madame C.J. Walker—was an African-American entrepreneur in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She pioneered the development and marketing of hair care products and cosmetics. As a profitable entrepreneur, Breedlove could have overlooked the needs of her employees. Instead, she respected their thoughts and hunger for growth. Her business employed well over three thousand workers in the US, and a large portion of those were door-to-door saleswomen. She was known to be overly generous, getting to know many of her employees through the in-depth training sessions she delivered. In 1912, Breedlove said, “Now my object in life is not simply to make money for myself or to spend it on myself in dressing or running around in an automobile, but I love to use a part of what I make to help others.” Breedlove was a leader who respected the needs of those who worked for her. In sum, she cared.
Furthermore, a focus on hubris and power will easily impede a more caring form of leadership. By focusing solely on yourself, the chance for relationship building disintegrates. Whether they are peers, colleagues or team members you’re leading, when you solely play for the sake of the name on the back of your jersey, people will question your values. The consequence? Nobody wants to work with you or for you. Projects don’t get done. Revenues suffer. That promotion you believe you deserve never materializes. Think of it as becoming the outcast at the high school dance, hanging by yourself in the corner wondering why everyone else is dancing.
If your goal is to make as much money or profit as possible, you really have to ask yourself, “What is the point?” Marc Benioff is the founder, CEO and chairman of high-tech company Salesforce. He echoes the sentiment. “Yes, profits are important, but so is society. And if our quest for greater profits leaves our world worse off than before, all we will have taught our children is the power of greed.” It turns out greed is not good.
Brian Scudamore, the founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, once said to me that his life’s purpose is to make meaning, not money. Brian’s words have stuck with me ever since. Meaning is akin to purpose. When you recognize that you’ve only got one chance at life, the lens becomes crystal clear. Think Kobe Bryant. Before his tragic death he was just coming into his own, leading a reimagined life of higher purpose. Money, albeit important, does not create purpose. Meaning and purpose are established when you treat every situation as an opportunity to learn, to give, to understand, to create. When you remove hubris and power from your definition of leadership, you can begin to lead yourself and others with meaning.
Stop thinking that more money or profit (through increased power and hubris) are the only paths towards purpose. Revise your leadership journey by creating a purpose statement that is expressive, relevant, and acts as a North Star for your daily interactions with others. Mine is as follows: “We’re not here to see through each other; we’re here to see each other through.”
Hopefully your leadership becomes one that is caring, full of meaning, and all about the positive, healthy development of relationships.
Dan Pontefract is the author of four best-selling books, including his latest Lead. Care. Win. How to Become a Leader Who Matters. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, leadership strategist, 4-time TED speaker, and contributor at Forbes and HBR. Visit him at www.leadcarewin.com and on all social media sites.