New books on leadership seem to be published daily in the business world. Some of the sales are fueled by a desperate desire for a get-rich-quick scheme. But the rest, I assume, appeal to those who want to rise to positions of leadership but don't know how, or those who are in leadership positions but can't seem to exercise it effectively.
Although I believe in general that "great leaders aren't made, they're born" -- that the drive, ambition, people skills and integrity of character required to be a top quality leader are most often innate -- there is some fine tuning we can do.
Perhaps one of the most important traits of a true leader is the ability both to listen to others and to make them feel heard. If people feel heard they will follow you anywhere, even at great self-sacrifice. A recent study demonstrated that the majority of us are willing to accept a lower income if we feel appreciated at work. A leader makes his or her employees feel that way, by valuing their input and ideas.
A frequent complaint voiced about presidents and prime ministers is that they don't listen to anyone else's opinion. We're willing to accept many other moral and character flaws -- but not this.
To achieve greatness, the focus needs to be on others, not ourselves.
Good leaders need to listen -- and respond. I was once invited to a meeting of a non-profit organization to plan their upcoming fundraiser. Many creative and thoughtful ideas were proposed and discussed. Subsequently we discovered that the event had actually already been planned. The meeting was to give those involved with the organization a "sense of involvement". I guess they were going for the "sense" and not the "involvement". All attendees felt used and discontinued further active participation in the organization.
Effective leaders implement the ideas of others -- and credit them for it. This gives everyone a stake in the success of the business or cause. It also enhances the popularity of the leader.
Some (not very good) leaders labor under an illusion that everything has to come from them. Yet they are more revered and loved when they truly listen to others. And of course the institution thrives more. It shouldn't come as a surprise that one individual can't possibly think of all the ideas and innovations. In making space for others, everyone benefits.
This is true in our personal and spiritual lives as well. In allowing room for other people, we benefit the most. In listening to others, we create real relationships. In responding to others we make them feel heard and deepen the connection. And we may even learn some new/better ways of being, get some help parenting or some marriage tools – maybe even a cooking, shopping or business tip.
It's valuable to focus on this essential leadership skill in all aspects of our lives. Of course we can only grow spiritually when we open ourselves up to the experience and knowledge of others, to insights outside our own and ultimately to the wisdom of the Almighty Himself.
Business books are not about good leaders, they're about great ones. To achieve greatness, the focus needs to be on others, not ourselves. To run a successful company may only require a good leader. But someone who listens to others, whatever their status, who in his humility is receptive to the words of others, and consequently the teachings of the Almighty is a great leader. Now that would be a book worth reading.