The leaders I admire most are the ones who put their employees/followers/team members before themselves. Many leaders become intoxicated by money and power and allow their interests to come before the people they are leading. This can lead to poor team performance and morale. The leaders who enjoy success and still recognize themselves as being of service to their followers are the leaders who enjoy strong follower loyalty and in many cases consistent team victories.
The two leaders I admire most for their selflessness over a long period of time and through tremendous success are Coach John Wooden and President Abraham Lincoln. As a leader of over 1,000 people in 20+ years, I have consciously made every attempt to lead my employees with the traits I saw in Wooden and Lincoln.
The following is an incomplete list of Coach Wooden’s and President Lincoln’s selfless leadership traits and characteristics that I admire and emulate. This isn’t a complete list but it is a start:
Selfless leaders treat people with respect. People follow leaders they like and trust. When leaders treat others with respect it helps build the trust and respect that keep employees loyal and eager to come to work every day. In addition, leaders often dictate the culture, and when they treat their team with respect the team often treats one another the same way.
Selfless leaders listen to ideas. Whether it be from their followers at the top level or bottom level of an organization, a selfless leader listens. They listen to varied points of view in order to find the best way to execute. They take the best of the ideas and implement them while praising the team for their collective efforts.
Selfless leaders are great at communicating. Both verbally and through the written word, selfless leaders effectively communicate their short and long term vision and goals. They communicate what, where, how, who, and when on a consistent basis.
“The leaders who enjoy success and still recognize themselves as being of service to their followers are the leaders who enjoy strong follower loyalty and in many cases consistent team victories.”
Selfless leaders are great at building a winning team. They communicate that the team’s goals are more important than any of the individual’s goals. The leader shows he or she is willing to do whatever it takes to move the team forward. Selfless leaders utilize every possible resource to assemble the best group of people to execute on the short and long term vision and goals of the organization.
Selfless leaders are great at managing. “See the people, see the people, see the people,” is their mantra. They go into the field and talk to the people on the ground who are closest to the real strengths and weaknesses of the organization. They aren’t afraid to hear the truth and they use that truth to improve themselves and their organization.
Selfless leaders are great at controlling their emotions. They are in control and therefore their followers are more likely to be calm and focused on the tasks at hand. Emotional leaders can upset co-workers and slow progress of the vision and the goals.
Selfless leaders openly share successes and failures with the people who follow them. They leave their ego at the door and understand their success is the team’s success and the team’s success is their success.
I will leave you with two quotes. One is from Coach Wooden and the other from President Lincoln. The first is from Coach:
“Two set of 3’s” – Coach John Wooden
“I am here, I must do the best I can, and bear the responsibility of taking the course which I feel I ought to take.”
-President Abraham Lincoln
If you lead people and want to increase your leadership selflessness, start by inculcating some or all of the traits exhibited by Lincoln and Wooden. They were both extraordinary leaders and even better men.