The Starting Point of Leadership
“Because I told you so.” Chances are you have either heard it or said it sometime in your life.
It is usually uttered by the exasperated parent who has been barraged with a few too many “Why’s?”
- “Why do I have to do my homework?”
- “Why do I have to clean my room?”
- “Why do I have to follow these rules?”
And the infamous words are uttered…”Because I told you so.”
This is the foundational level of leadership.
It says, “You are expected to follow me because I am in the position of being your parent. I am appointed to put a roof over your head, ensure you are educated, and keep you healthy and safe.”
This level of leadership is critically important. You are meeting the needs of those entrusted to your care. It may not always be easy – and they may not understand many of your decisions – but it is essential for their wellbeing that this foundation is established.
Fast forward to the workplace.
These same “Why’s” surface there as well. Those who report to you may not be saying it, but they could be thinking…
- “Why do I have to do this work?”
- “Why do I have to clean up this mess?”
- “Why do I have to follow these policies and procedures?”
And your answer, in some form or fashion, comes out as “because I told you so.”
It is your way of saying you don’t have it all figured out yet, but you realize you are responsible, at least in part, for the work and welfare of your people.
In time, as you ascend the leader’s ladder, you will add layers beyond these basic tenants. But as the “first-rung” of leadership, it is essential that you build upon this solid foundation.
How can you be an excellent first-rung leader?
At a fundamental level, you have two important responsibilities.
- Create a healthy business that supports the team.
This is about fiscal responsibility. It is about building and growing a business while also battling to protect the bottom line.
As a leader, you must take these two areas of responsibility seriously.
Too much growth and reserves will be depleted.
Too much protection and you lose innovation.
A healthy business that serves its clients and supports its team has a leader at the helm who is building and battling.
Several decades ago, the leaders of a major corporation failed to follow this principle. At a time when raw materials were high, they chose to manufacture a significant quantity of product using those raw materials. This was also the time when they were in a primary building campaign and implementing a corporate-wide software system that was not fully vetted. They were growing in many directions.
But to fund the growth, they failed to support the necessary repairs and improvements to keep the manufacturing facilities in compliance.
As a result, the product sat in warehouses – priced too high to sell; the facilities were levied with millions of dollars in fines, and the costly software experiment resulted in the loss of millions of dollars.
In the end, the multi-million dollar new office building was sold for pennies on the dollar, and thousands of employees lost their jobs.
The lesson is clear: Be a leader who builds… and battles. Create a business that supports your people.
- Create a strong team that supports the business.
As a first-rung leader, those who report to you may not know you well. They may follow your leadership, not because they want to, but because they have to. This is normal for a first-rung leader. But that doesn’t mean you can’t lead well.
The key is to be authentic. If you don’t know the answer, don’t be afraid to let your team know…and then go and find the solution.
Listen to your people. Listen to their needs and ideas. Communicate with them according to their style. Let them know that, although you may be new in your position, you take the responsibility of creating a team that creates a strong business seriously because, ultimately, it supports them.
It is not about you. And though you may have them, it is not about your insecurities. It is about reaching a common goal that serves and supports the clients and the people who serve in your company.
If these two things are all you do as a first-rung leader, you have set a solid foundation for yourself and your people. Regarding the 11 Essential Needs of Employees, you have met their first need. You can reward them for their work.
They, in turn, will reward you with their trust. For more tools to help you grow as a leader, click here for my Recommended Reading List.
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