Leadership ~ The Heart of the Matter

Heart of the Matter

They may forget what you said – but they will never forget how you made them feel.

It’s a quote that has over the years been attributed to many people. It’s also very true and one of the reasons I think Christmas is so special. The general mood around this time of year is laid back and caring. Generosity is at its highest all year and most people are able to take some time to relax and be with the ones they love. It’s not the formal greetings we use that make people feel this way, it’s the way we treat one another that does. It’s the most wonderful time of the year because we focus, even if for a bit, on other people. It’s that focus that makes people feel loved, appreciated and happy.

Christmas is much more than its title or greeting. It’s about others. From it’s very core it’s about finding a solution to ensure others experience success. Leadership, when done properly is very much the same. Great leaders care about their people. They care about their staff, their contractors, their customers and their suppliers. Indifference is a characteristic not well suited to leadership. You simply cannot be a leader if you don’t care about those you lead and work with. A real test of any leader is whether or not those they lead are better off for being led by them. The heart of any successful leader is a heart that cares about the whole picture. When you place things above the people you lead you have failed as a leader.

My family and I braved the craziness of the mall to have our sons annual Santa pictures taken. I walked past a Salvation Army volunteer and thought about what motivates them to stand in a crowd for hours on end like they do. What makes them want to stand in one of the busiest environments shaking bells? I suspect if they didn’t believe people’s lives were better off because they stood, jingling bells to raise money they wouldn’t be doing it. Remember, a real test of any leader is whether or not those they lead are better off for being led by them.

Leaders care about people. In my humble opinion Barry Sanders was the best running back of all time. His stats were incredible. If it wasn’t for his early retirement he could have almost assuredly surpassed many of the records he hadn’t already passed. His talent gave him an opportunity to be a leader on his team. It was the care for his teammates that made him one. He was without a doubt at the top of the talent pool yet he cared more about his team than his ability and personal stats. In his High School senior year Barry had the rushing title in his grasp. Incredible really considering he did not become the starting running back until the fourth game of the year. He rushed for 1,417 yards in the final seven games of the season, earning all-state honors. In his final game his coach gave him the option; get the rushing title or give some of the younger players some playing time. Barry without hesitation sat and let the young players get some reps. A similar scenario happened in 1989, his first season in the NFL. Sanders missed the NFL rushing title by 10 yards because he chose not to go back into the game when the Lions already had the game won. He wanted the back up guys to get some playing time. According to his coach Wayne Fontes, when he offered Sanders the chance to gain the yardage and the rushing title, Sanders declined, reportedly saying, “Coach, let’s just win it (the game) and go home.”

Leaders don’t care about their individual success. They care about the success of their group. It’s not about titles, awards or fame. The heart of great leadership is unselfish. It looks to see how it can make someone better off because they are there. A leader succeeds when their people succeed. When their people succeed, their organization does. Christmas is special because it’s really about other people. It’s about the birth of a young leader that came to make the lives of others better. Want to be a great leader? Make peoples lives better. If you care about others success, they will care about yours.

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