digdeep

digdeep

Today’s post is the featured article from the February 2012 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

john-newIt may be the most important lesson of leadership. In fact, it may be the only lesson a leader needs to learn. With this lesson mastered, it opens the door to the leader’s true potential. This lesson is nothing short of the welcome mat to leaving a meaningful legacy.

Unfortunately, this lesson is not likely to be a stretch goal of many leaders.

For many, in leadership roles, it wouldn’t be on their list of goals at all. I believe it is the painful truth why most leaders will never meet their full potential … and more sadly, they will never be the catalyst for helping others meet their potential either.

There may be a reason as to why so few leaders have “mastered” this lesson. It is not a “lesson” at all within the content of many, if any, highly sophisticated, deeply intellectual and very expensive leadership courses. It’s too simple to be in the company of sophisticated models and metrics.

Yet it was the powerful, and possibly risky, opening sentence of Rick Warren’s blockbuster book, The Purpose Driven Life. It set the stage for every word that was to follow. And it sets the stage for every leadership lesson there is to learn.

“It’s Not About You” sets a leader’s mindset and motives.

It also begs the question, “if it is not about me … then who is it about?” It immediately forces an outward glance that turns a leader’s attention to the blank canvas of greater possibilities. Greater potential. More meaning. It establishes an arena in which to truly lead.

It may very well be a leader’s best insurance policy as well. What are the odds that there is a high statistical correlation between leaders who were in “it” for themselves and leaders who have fallen? It would be interesting to do the math. On the other hand, there may be another brand of leaders who have “failed” but have made an amazing impact leading within their failure. They made an impact because they never believed their leadership was about them.

There is a major difference between leaders who fail and leaders who fall.

It may be the lesson of “INAY” that defines this very difference. I am afraid we have undermined the potential and fulfillment of many a leader by fertilizing the egos of truly gifted people. Even if they didn’t believe it was about them, we have convinced them that it really is … and they have fallen for it. Some literally.

It takes a leader of great strength, depth and skill to embrace the reality that it is not about them. You see, great leaders don’t need it to be about them. It is a weak leader who needs to draw something from their leadership role.

I am not talking about a superficial veneer of humility. I am talking about every aspect and every action of their leadership persona. It is how a leader walks into a room. How a leader crafts a message. How a leader shows up in the relationship with everyone they meet. And even how they dis-assemble the outward symbols of privilege.

A few years back, I was hired to speak to the faculty and staff of a community college on creating a meaningful culture of service. As I walked, from the large parking lot into a planning meeting, I noticed the prime parking spot had been reserved for the college president. As we brainstormed throughout our planning meeting, I suggested the reserved parking spot for the college president be relocated in the parking lot to the spot furthest from the building. They thought I was joking.

I was dead serious.

The problem was that they weren’t really dead serious about truly creating a meaningful culture of service. As is often the case, we don’t want to give-up the insignificant so we can embrace what really is significant. Relocating the parking spot would have certainly made a statement to every faculty and staff. But more importantly, I figured the few extra hundred feet the president would have to walk each day would give him a great opportunity to reflect along the way the greatest lesson of leadership … INAY. The problem is he never got a chance to make that decision. Those around him made it for him. They protected him from ever learning the lesson.

That is why true leaders must learn for themselves. The irony, and possibly the paradox, is that the lesson of INAY (It’s Not About You!) can only be learned by working on … YOU! It is really not that hard. It just takes a lot of character and the desire to really want to lead for someone other than yourself.

It is there you find the real call and joy of leadership.