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The Best Gift Managers Can Give Their People This Season

Truly great managers lead others, not themselves. By focusing on maximizing your employees' potential, you'll grow your company and find your own path to success.

Do you see yourself as a self-oriented leader or as an others-oriented leader?

We have found that leaders are most effective when they are interested more in the growth, development, and success of their people than in their own achievement. The good news—and the ironic twist—is that others-oriented leaders tend to be more successful themselves.

We recently attended a funeral of a man who died at the young age of 49. He was very wealthy and had accumulated great assets. Some might assume that he would have had to have been selfish and greedy to have amassed so much at such a young age. But as people talked about him and what he meant in their lives, it became evident that what made him so successful was that he had high standards both for himself and for the people around him. He surrounded himself with high-potential people and then spent his life helping them to see in themselves the good qualities he saw in them. His greatest gift to them was a larger perspective about what they could be instead of their own smaller, self-limiting view.

In his book Where Men Win Glory, author Jon Krakauer describes the life of Pat Tillman. Despite a promising career in the NFL, Tillman chose to believe in himself, to believe in others, and finally to engage in personal sacrifice above safer choices. Ultimately, he gave his life in service to his country.

Both of these men chose to lead at a higher level.

People will say, "Yes, but as a leader if you don't watch out for yourself, you’re not going to get yours and you’ll be seen as gullible." There are all kinds of temptations to give up the higher path and not care as much about others as you do about yourself. But as soon as your people sense that you are "in it for yourself," they shrink back. Now you have a bunch of defensive people who are also thinking about themselves. That's when organizations really begin to suffer.

We recently completed some research into the connection between self-oriented leaders and their employees as well as that between others-oriented leaders and their employees. Our goal was to find out how each of these leadership orientations impacted not only employees’ sense of connectedness with their leaders but also their subsequent intentions to perform at a high level, stay with the organization, and be a good organizational citizen. The results were compelling, with strong correlations between the factors. People who saw their leader as being others-oriented felt a closer connection and had more positive intentions to perform at a high level in all areas than people who perceived their leader as being self-oriented.

The most important thing we can teach leaders is to recognize that they need to be more interested in the success of their people than they are in their own personal success, and to sacrifice when necessary so that their people can thrive and grow. As soon as we forget that lesson and succumb to indulgences of the self, we cause our people to feel less valued and less useful.

Getting started

The holiday season is a great time to rekindle relationships and to remember that the greatest joy comes from giving, not receiving. One great way to get started is by relationship mapping.

Take an inventory of your work relationships. Map out the people who work for you. Spend a few minutes thinking about who each person is, what their aspirations and dreams are, and what they are trying to make happen in their lives—both professionally and personally.

Now take a minute to reflect. Great leaders balance action and reflection. In your relationships with people, a balance should exist between the action you're working on and reflection on where this person is headed in the long term.

In addition to your own direct reports, also take a minute to make sure that you are recognizing colleagues and other leaders who are selflessly helping others. We once had a leader who was a great developer of people. Because he was so good at it, though, inevitably the people he developed within his department would be poached by other departments and leave. He came to feel that he was just churning out people, preparing them for assignments in other departments.

When he went for performance review, he said, "Here's one of the things I do really well that I think makes me a special asset to the company. I'd like to not only be acknowledged for it, but would also like some additional support in being allowed to bring in extra people." It was an eye-opener for us to realize that he almost felt as if he were being penalized and taken advantage of for developing others.

When we looked back at all of the people this manager had developed over the years, we realized he was right. Many people said working with him was the impetus that changed the trajectory of their career. His actions had benefits not only for the people he had worked with, but also for the organization as a whole.

Don't forget the inspiration this season

Make this a season of reflection and action. Remember:

  • Leadership is not about you. It’s about serving and helping other people succeed.
  • You become an adult when you realize that life is more about giving than receiving. The more you give, the more will come back to you.
  • Relationships are valuable. Take some time to reflect on what is happening in the important relationships in your life.
Remember why you are here and whom you are serving. Create a connection with your people. Investing in their growth is a great place to start.

Sign up for more leadership lessons in the Fast Company newsletter.

—Scott Blanchard is the cofounder of Blanchard Certified, a new cloud-based leadership development resource and experience. Ken Blanchard is the best-selling co-author of The One Minute Manager and 50 other books on leadership. You can follow Ken Blanchard on Twitter @KenBlanchard or @LeaderChat and also via the HowWeLead and LeaderChat blogs.

[Image: Flickr user Thomas Hawk]

Add New Comment


  • The Executive Coach

    Really a great article and it is great to have
    another confirmation that leadership is not about the leader himself but
    about his team, his employees, his partners and the people he is
    working with.

    Of course a leader has to take care of himself because if you do not
    take care of yourself, how do you want to care for others? However, the
    most successful team leaders, for instance in sports, always know that
    they can never win if they only focus on themselves. Focusing on the
    strength and improving the strength of his employees, makes a successful
    leader much more powerful. What do you want to achieve if you are the
    best one in what you are doing and if you have lame dogs working for
    you? Make your employees as successful and good as possible and most
    likely they will be much better that you. And this creates a great team.
    If you are an authority, they will follow you.

    Thanks again for this article.

          Axel Rittershaus
          The Executive Coach

  • Tiffany Hughes

    Yes!!  Yes!! Yes!!!  Focusing on others instead of yourself is not a sign of weakness.  It is a sign of strength.  It takes a strong person to put others needs in front of their own.  Thank you for such a great reminder.  I am sharing this article with many others.  Not as a reprimand or subtle hint, but as a reminder that we must always strive to be better.

  • Chris Reich

    I agree with every word of this painfully, obviously true article. I see personality types entrenched in dead-end styles that will never accept this. That's the number one factor holding our economy back from a broad recovery. Management, in general, stinks. Employees are scared and unhappy. Consumer (worker) confidence is low because we see how lousy things are at work.

    We must break the cycle.
    Chris Reich, TeachU