Safety, the Duty of Leadership

A friend of mine and I were talking the other day on the subject of leadership and what it is to have a great boss.  As we talked, he mentioned that the best boss he ever had was one who “had his back.”  In other words, this boss protected his people.

My friend went on to say that this feeling of security had a huge impact.  He said he felt empowered and safe to make decisions.  He felt more able to innovate and come up with novel ideas.  He felt better about sharing those ideas without fearing that he would be silenced or sidelined because he was taking the light off his boss.

My friend went on to say that this “protection” influenced the way his entire team operated.  The team was more open and shared ideas; they all worked more for each other than for themselves, and they freely shared credit for things.

As we were talking, I was thinking, “How can any of this be a bad thing?  Why are business leaders not more in tune with this?  How can these benefits not be a key to greater success?”  Ultimately, I couldn’t stop thinking, “Where have we gone so wrong?”

I found the answer in a quote from Simon Sinek in his book “Leaders Eat Last” (read this now if you haven’t already), “In the military, they give medals to people who sacrifice themselves so that others may gain; in business, they give bonuses to people who sacrifice others so that they may gain.” In other words, we have misplaced our priorities; we have fallen off the path to long-term success by focusing on an “each person for themselves” philosophy.  How do we change it?

I think it starts with each of us make a concerted effort to stand up for the people on our teams, to look to our left and to our right and see who we can help.  It starts by setting an example.  It starts by influencing those around us to build a circle of safety.  In the words of PFC Louden Downey in the movie “A Few Good Men,” “We were supposed to fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves.” This is the nature of true leadership instead of just being a person with a title, and this is how we all can start building places where we get the benefits listed above.

QUESTION:   What can you start doing tomorrow to influence building an environment where people feel safe to voice their opinions and ideas?  How can you stand up for others with whom you work?



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