Executive Leadership: It Isn’t About You

I’ve met some executive leaders that amaze me by what they obviously didn’t learn on the way up the ladder of “success”.  When you are in any position of leadership, it is no longer about you but is all about the people following your lead.  As leaders, it is our responsibility to create a space that encourages our staff to reach their own level of success, to create new leaders, and provide a physically and emotionally safe environment in which to work. My goal is always to train a leader from within my organization to replace me when the time is appropriate.  As leaders, we should never be indispensable (or think we are).  Throughout my career I have tended to be task-oriented and focused on the job at hand.  However, I am always thrilled to hear former employees describe me as ‘fair and consistent’ and, even more importantly, they say they know I cared.

One of the most horrific stories of poor leadership I have witnessed was at a teaching hospital in the Southwest.  A department director’s son had been in a very serious motorcycle accident, which resulted in the young man being admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) in critical condition in the very hospital in which his mother worked.  It was appropriate that the director acted as a mother and stayed in her son’s room during those early hours of waiting for some sign of life.  The executive leader to whom the director reported actually had the nerve to go to the ICU, remind the director she had a report deadline to meet, and tell her there was nothing she could do for her son anyway. It was appalling!  And the final blow was delivered when this ‘leader’ charged the director for vacation time in spite of the many extra hours over the salaried 40 the director had worked in the weeks before.  Unfortunately this type of behavior was typical of this particular executive.

Not long afterwards the incident, the executive resigned. Her immediate boss had retired and was no longer going to be there to protect her from consequences of her abusive behavior.  Apparently, the behavior had gone on for years with no consequence from the governing body or chief executive officer.

The executive missed an important lesson of leadership.  When you become responsible for an organization of people and their livelihood, it is no longer about you.  When I see a company that has high turnover and revenue issues constantly, I usually can identify a weak leader. Successful leaders know they don’t know it all and must surround themselves with good people that complement their own skill set.  They also know they must treat people with respect.  It isn’t enough to have a mission statement on the wall that states what people want to hear. It is the responsibility of the executive leadership to lead by example, lead by walking the talk, and to remember that it isn’t about them. Leadership is a responsibility that must be protected and exhibited for those that trust us with their jobs and livelihood.


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