Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons for Today

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me at home, starting Monday with a Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I traveled to Dallas to attend and participate in Tom Ferry’s Success Summit and today, I attended the Dallas Business Journal Women in Business 2022 Awards honoring Allie Beth Allman.

It was a week of meeting and learning – my favorite thing to do. As the saying goes, once you think you know it all, your slide to mediocrity has already begun.

In the name of continual improvement, I want to share with you some notes and takeaways I wrote down from various sessions and keynotes I attended this week: 

A great leader seeks to help everyone around them realize their full potential, and doesn’t put their own self-interests first. If you’re putting your needs before the needs of your team, you will never win in the long-term. Leadership is about bringing out the best in others and uplifting those around you to realize just how incredible they can be. This means creating an environment that is open, collaborative, and honest, where everyone feels their voice is valued and heard. This means a clear definition of commitments and responsibilities, ensuring team members fully understand what is expected of them, so they can perform with excellence.

As an example, one of the things I’ve asked the HomeServices’ CEOs to do is email me each week with the name of one person from their team who deserves recognition and congratulations. I ask them to include the person’s name, their photo, and a brief description about why I would be giving them a shoutout – something personal about the accomplishment they’ve achieved. Then, I call that person and give them the kudos they deserve, letting them know the praise came directly from their CEO; and nothing goes further than a third-party endorsement.

A leader is not concerned with “me.” A leader is concerned with “we.” Here is an excellent exercise you can practice right now: Open your email and check the last communication you sent to your team. How many times did you include the word “I” or “me” in your message? If your email was filled with “I” or “me” then you’ve identified an area for improvement and in your next email, you can swap the “I”s out for “we”s.

There’s science behind why you should use “we” when addressing a team. In a Harvard Business Review article by organizational psychologist David Burkus, the author points to research that shows leaders who use “I” in communications or speech “would get looked down on, regardless of whether they held positions of authority.”

Simply put, people don’t like to feel like you’re talking at them but rather want to be included in the conversation. Burkus concludes that switching from “I” to “we” can cause an ideological change in leaders, and “might help shift … perspective from self-focused to others-focused.”

Think of collaborative leadership like an orchestra. In this comparison, you aren’t the brilliant musician about to embark on an orchestral flute solo to open a symphony. You are the conductor, with a view of every single musician in the orchestra, inspiring them all to play at their finest and most importantly, to play together.

Another example of leadership can be found in the tango. While it may seem like one partner leads and the other follows, tango is a much more subtle artform based on energy, unspoken signals (and how well a partner can read them) and silent exchanges that communicate where to dance next. A tango dancer once recalled her favorite partner was not the one who was the most serious about the dance or the most technically  adept, but rather the partner who was most attentive and could quickly adapt if the next move was not anticipated or expected. This created a fluid tango relationship, which translated into the overall performance. Great leadership is the same; it is not one leading and the other following but anticipating the needs of your team members and supporting them as they progress across the dance floor of your business.

So, what’s the message? Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” and it is a question we as leaders should be asking – and answering – every day.

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