“Every single employee is someone’s son or someone’s daughter. Like a parent, a leader of a company is responsible for their precious lives.” ~ Simon Sinek
Over the last four years, I have had the privilege of working with several military special operations teams. To say that the experience has been humbling would be quite an understatement. During my last visit, I was partnering with the #2 guy from a team of 300 operators and support personnel, who, over the course of the last few years, has become a good friend to me. The intent of the visit was to spend a day with 60 or so team members doing some work on their leadership development. In the end, I feel quite certain that it was I who was doing most of the learning.
The morning of the session, a Friday morning, my friend and I arrived at the offsite installation long before anyone else, as we had to get everything set up (tables, food, screen, overhead projector, etc.). As time passed, it became clear to me that it was just us for the set up. There were no assistants, support teams or technicians, the latter of which presented us with a few challenges but we prevailed. Interestingly, once the team arrived, I learned that the meal itself was not in the budget, so each team member attending who could pay, threw some money in a jar to cover the food and drinks. My friend explained that this was their honor system and in the event everyone was not able to contribute, he would make up the difference out of his pocket.
Another lesson for me came as the day wrapped up. Given the weekend ahead, my friend’s idea from the start had been to get the team out ahead of schedule, a small token of thanks and recognition from him for all they do; and something the team would be extremely grateful for. And once everyone left, we had one more task before calling it a day – clean-up duty. We got out mops, buckets, trash bags, and cleaned the room from one end to the other, again just me and him, the #2 guy from one of the most elite fighting forces in the world. An hour later we loaded up the trash bags in his truck and headed home. For me, the lesson could not have been more clear – real leaders are servants first.
It doesn’t take too many conversations with my friend to understand how he feels about his team and the extent that he will go to take care of them. The term “precious lives” comes to mind. A term often used by Simon Sinek, who himself has done some work with this same special operations group. And “precious lives” stands in stark contrast to our often used label of “human resources” in the world of work.
Leaders who see each life as precious are those who pour into others, not preside over them. Pour into which is often defined as investing your life, experiences, time, wisdom, and knowledge into another person’s life, in hopes that they will achieve their goals and make their dreams come true. While presiding can mean ruling or supervising something; to occupy the place of authority or control.
In the context of work, leaders who pour in:
- Understand that trust and relationships are the means and ends of leadership, often engaging in conversations simply for the sake of the conversation, the connection, the relationship, and nothing more.
- Obsess about the people, not the profits, attending first to the extraordinary potential of the person, their growth, development, health, and well-being, before the goals, objectives, and desired outcomes of the organization.
- Make it about those they lead, giving them the ultimate gift of time and attention to their (those they lead) needs, wants, and desires vs. the leaders own tasks, to-do’s, and check-off lists.
- Seek to understand vs. being understood, being sincerely curious and looking for the emotional cues as to how those around them are really doing in work and life; then pour in, never assuming that when things are not quite right that they will get better on their own
- Serve versus being served, with a different approach to leadership on the simple things such as who’s getting who the coffee, who’s juggling their schedule to accommodate the other, and who’s working late so others don’t have too? Our special forces military officers express this through their often used phrase, “leaders eat last”.
Pouring into his team every day, my officer friend’s personal purpose statement reads: “Be the leader that your people deserve. Defend the nation and always accomplish the mission, but never forget that your teammates are everything; YOU serve THEM! Empower your people with the best training and resources, fight endlessly to get them meaningful work, and inspire them to be the best version of themselves every day.”