I have listened to many people try to answer this seemingly simple question. I’m yet to hear an answer that gave me the “aha” moment – at least until recently. Oddly that moment came from an insight from the philosopher Lao Tzu who lived 2,500 years ago. He said:

Go to the people. Learn from them. Honour them. Start with what they know. Build on what they have. But of a great leader who talks little, when the work is done and his aim is fulfilled, the people will say ‘We did this ourselves.

Tzu talks of the people – the team – and how it is the leader’s primary role to mould them to help them reach their full potential. It’s a hard, unrelenting job and the work is selfless with little kudos attached to it. At the centre of it is two-way respect – something that is not easily or quickly acquired.

What isn’t important is winning awards, personal media exposure or any other type of personal glory. While this might contribute to how someone feels about themselves, especially in front of their peers, it doesn’t make a better leader. In the end great leaders really don’t care what others say about them.

Tzu’s words are a wake-up call to modern day leadership. They highlight the timeless values of selflessness, and mutual respect as well as the need to be driven and focused. Taken further what is clear is that you have to care deeply about your people and constantly look for ways to develop them and ultimately improve their lives. If you do that they’ll repay you by the bucket-loads. If you don’t you’ll end up with a dysfunctional, apathetic organisation. It’s blunt, but true.

Great leaders are a rare breed. If you’re looking for one don’t expect to find them in the obvious places – like on centre stage microphone in hand expounding on the latest triumph. Instead, go to the back of the room – they’re likely to be there having a quiet drink and smiling ear to ear while their people are saying “we did this ourselves”…

Article by The Bull