Leaders Go First

24 Mar

In my MBA Leadership class, I was asked offhandedly by the professor to state something obvious, but often ignored, about leaders. And I was only allowed three words.

Here they are (prepare to be un-wowed):

Leaders go first.

Obvious, right? That’s the meaning of the word “to lead” – to go first, to be followed, to forge a path ahead.

But I think leaders have to be first in something more essential to the heart of business. Leaders have to be the first to trust. People always rate honesty and trust as the most important components of friendships, relationships and a work environment. Trust can be built, trust can be earned, trust can grow. But at the very beginning, before there is a reason for it, trust must be freely extended by one party.

I think it’s the leader’s job to initiate this cycle. To open up, show vulnerability and let go of some control. People feel safe to be vulnerable after someone else has bravely gone first. If you can’t be brave and go first, should you really be a leader? This doesn’t mean baring your soul or spewing personal details. It does mean sharing information, letting others know your goals and applicable concerns and the state of the company.

Leaders go first. But that does not mean they go alone.

People can’t help unless they understand the situation. Be the first to express that need. Be vulnerable. Explain how they can help the company/project/goal move forward. Explain why this is important (not just from a company financial perspective, but how this will benefit them personally). And then let people get on with it.

Leaders go first. But they don’t go alone. They stand at the front pressing forward with the vision. They stand in the middle acknowledging the milestones and gauging the needs of the group. And they take up the rear encouraging the hearts of the stragglers.

It’s not easy. But it’s worth it. If not, then save yourself embarrassment by being the first to acknowledge that you shouldn’t be leading. And then be the first to trust in and follow the leader that emerges.

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One Response to “Leaders Go First”

  1. Ralph March 28, 2011 at 8:12 am #

    Useful posting, I actually wait for posts from you.

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