Greatness is not synonymous with, or determined by, title or position. Greatness has more intrinsic values that speak to character and kindness and consistent efforts undertaken with intelligence and heart. So often though, accolades and ceremony are reserved for those with title and position as if by having such they are to be heralded and celebrated. The unsung, common persons may be overlooked because they are not considered special or worthy of exemplification. Yet, in amongst the many are those whose greatness stands for much more than title or position. It is in the everyday person that the best of humankind frequently and eloquently resides.
By definition greatness is “the quality of being great, distinguished or eminent.” Kings and Queens, presidents and prime ministers, world leaders and heads of corporations, all come to mind and some genuinely reflect the definition. Queen Elizabeth is the longest reigning monarch in the history of the United Kingdom and there is much to honour in her style of leadership, integrity and unwavering commitment. On the contrary, looking to the current leadership in the United States there is much debate about greatness. The slogan “make America great again” in itself conjures up significant discussion and disagreement. By virtue of the US, being the US, it is a country of people that self proclaim themselves as the “greatest and most powerful nation on earth.” Other countries, rightly so, vehemently disagree for good reason.
Looking to organizations and corporations, leadership is frequently focused on the those sitting on the top rungs. The belief is that those at the top, the senior leadership team, are the ones who wield the power to direct, inspire and build successful companies. Senior leaders are most often geographically separate from their employees. They claim and occupy space that is designed to enclose them and limit access to their domain within the office structure. They form their own team and become their own confidants. They proclaim understanding of strategic direction by their own design instead of seeking careful counsel and valuable input from the employees who they, in turn, expect to fulfill the vision. The disconnect is obvious but denied.
~ Vision ~
The frustration that results when change does not transpire, projects go awry or profits fail may be pushed onto the very employees who were not consulted in the first place. A vision is only as good as the people who believe in it and make it happen. If it is not their vision, not their belief, it is difficult for them to act. Vision means nothing if you can’t see it or feel it or understand its purpose as it relates to you and your work.
Participation in vision works best when it is done early and extensively. What employees offer in the formative stages of strategic discussions can enhance and shape future direction in positive and forceful ways. For example, employees discover weak spots and opportunities through their day-to-day dealings with one another and with their customers/clients. They live the life of the company. They are, in essence, the culture and world of the organization. Leaders who do not engage that intelligence miss the opportunity to know what matters, what resonates and what might immediately fail in their vision plan.
Leadership is not about being right just because you are a leader. It is about being on the best charted course because you are linked with and leading from within the employee core of your company. It is about asking those who lead every day from their place of stronghold and service what they think and what they would do. It is about being willing to let great ideas come from outside the exclusive suite of offices where leaders tend to isolate themselves. It may even be about moving those offices to a better location for closer, more meaningful connection with the pulse of the organization.
Greatness has a resounding ring with generosity. It is the helping hand of willingness and desire for the best possible outcomes. I have witnessed people change from “job” mentality to “can-do” mentality because they were included, given a voice and their ideas acted upon. I have watched people go from “no one cares what I think” to active, ambitious, and excited because they were shown that their work and contributions matter. Their greatness came alive and multiplied because the leaders at the top checked their fears and assumptions at the door and decided to enter into real collaboration.
Why do people follow a leader? It is not simply because they are the leader and it is required. No, people follow a leader because they know that she/he is with them, for them and of them. Otherwise, people eventually leave and go find another leader. Or if they stay they grow increasingly disgruntled, resentful and ultimately unhappy.
Leadership is as much about following as it is leading. It is about listening and hearing. It is about participating in the practices of the work and services of the organization. People love and admire leaders who give them the opportunity to rise up and lead. They want to belong to what they do. They want their talent and skills to shine.
I have long been a fan of the company Zappos. That they call their employees “family” is a brilliant insight into their approach and mentality as a company. They care and they ensure that their family members are vibrant, integral participants. They live “awesome” in a way that truly inspires. They get that creating loyal online customers does not come from pushing their employees but from allowing their “family members” to BE the success. The following is Zappos’ statement of core values from their website.
Zappos Family Core Values
As we grow as a company, it has become more and more important to explicitly define the core values from which we develop our culture, our brand, and our business strategies. These are the ten core values that we live by:
Deliver WOW Through Service
Embrace and Drive Change
Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
Pursue Growth and Learning
Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
Do More With Less
Be Passionate and Determined
The word humble as a value is uniquely significant as it relates to greatness. To be great, truly great, a person cannot be smug or condescending or pompous. No-one accomplishes great things all on their own without the support and investment of others. Greatness is not about “me” or “I.” It is about “we” and “us.” It is shared and celebrated and centered on togetherness. Being humble knocks ego aside and allows the synergy of collected minds to build admirable companies like Zappos. Companies that serve through the strength of their shared belief and unified vision.
Over the years of my career I often wondered what would happen if there were more walk-about conversations with employees instead of closed boardroom meetings. I wondered what it would mean to senior leaders if they got off the elevator on the employee levels and said good morning to their employees and learned their names and understood their roles. I wondered what would happen if the executive suite was eliminated and made into an open area where employees could gather informally with leaders to pitch ideas, comment on daily operations and review critical issues. I wondered what would happen if the focus was on developing employees into leaders, instead of leaders into leaders. I wondered what kind of inspiring organizational culture could be accomplished if we stopped excluding people based on rank and hierarchy and instead facilitated open, honest dialogue based on inclusion and acceptance.
It’s never too late to be great. It is a choice.
Don’t impress with your title. Impress with your heart.
Be the kind of leader that people admire because you followed their lead more than you followed your own.