When it comes to leadership, I believe in something that can be best described as foundational leadership. If typical leaders are seen as figure heads or individuals who have successfully climbed the corporate ladder over the backs of others, then foundational leaders are the opposite. Foundational leaders understand that it’s not just about climbing a ladder, but about digging down to become an integral member of the foundation that supports the rest of the organization. They understand that digging is harder than climbing, and that the more leadership responsibility they assume, the more weight they bear for those they lead.
A potential trap that might present itself with this kind of view on leadership is that you begin to see yourself as the glue that holds it all together. You may think that without you, the entire structure will collapse. That may actually be true, but a foundational leader knows this is a problem. Our goals as leaders should not be to design systems, relationships, and teams that fail without us. Our goal should be to work ourselves out of a job. To create such strong systems and cultures that the organization will continue to thrive well beyond ours or anyone else’s tenure.
But wait a minute. I thought the goal was to dig down and become an integral part of the foundation? Shouldn’t we be carrying the weight for our employees, co-workers and customers? Don’t we want to become permanent fixtures of the organization?
Here in lies the internal tensions that leaders must seek to balance. How can we be the steady and confident captain of the ship that our team leans on during difficult times, while simultaneously working to make the crew self-dependent? I think we should re-examine the original analogy. Perhaps it’s less about being the foundation. Maybe it is more about digging down, shoring the earth back, inspecting the foundation and then strengthening it. Maybe the foundation is not necessarily the people, but rather the systems that support the people within the organization.
No matter what analogy is used to visualize this type of leadership, I hope this provides you with a potentially different perspective. As a leader, these are the values that I seek to practice. To see myself as a servant of my employees and co-workers. To work alongside them and not above them and to build them up so that they are not reliant on me. I don’t always get it right. In fact I probably get it wrong more often than not. I am fortunate enough to work with an amazing team of people who are willing to tell me when I am not in line with my own value system. If you don’t have that with the team you work with, I would encourage you to create it. Seek out feedback and create safe places for those who follow you to provide constructive criticism. That feedback will make you a better leader faster than anything else.
What do you think makes a good leader? Please let me know in the comments below.