The Unselfish Leader – Some Thoughts On How To Act Responsibly When In A Position Of Authority

It is all too easy when in a position of authority – e.g. as a supervisor, manager, leader, parent, or politician – to feel that one has earned the right to behave selfishly. After all, that is the way very many people, including many of our role models, actually do behave. Certainly the temptations are ever present. Each and every little step one takes can be justified and can then be followed by a commitment not to repeat it. Soon you find yourself taking another step and then another. Eventually you stop worrying about the need for self-justification. You’ve surely earned the right to behave as you please and in the manner that most others behave.

It appears that we have become stuck in a rut, where the only strategy for personal success is seemingly based on driving all other people into the ground. As pretty much everybody is following the same strategy, it becomes difficult to see any real alternatives. Especially as this strategy does appear to lead to success. But it’s a hollow success. It’s like a building that has been eaten away by termites. On the outside, all looks fine, but as soon as you touch it, it starts to fall apart. All strength, vitality and goodness has been removed from the inside. It takes very little for the façade itself to crumble into dust.

This is the risk that many people take with their careers by following a selfish strategy. If and when things go wrong, they have no strength or support left – it’s all been eaten away by their selfish actions in the past. There is another way to achieve success. It’s not easy. It takes hard work, commitment and effort. But it leads to a better, stronger, longer-lasting and more solid success. One that can take the nocks and setbacks that will inevitably arise and helps you deal with them.

That’s the value of the unselfish approach to leadership. Unselfish Leadership is defined in the pioneering research undertaken by Dalton and Thompson that lead to the Four Stages of Contribution model. Effective leaders consistently demonstrate Stage 3 and 4 behaviours.

Please read on for some thoughts and ideas to help you down the road to becoming an effective and unselfish leader.

Unselfish Leaders take the time to develop and act on the following;

  1. Consistently ‘letting go’ of detailed work. The Unselfish Leader knows that her job is to understand the bigger picture. To help interpret what’s happening out there for the benefit of those within. You can’t do this if your time is spent doing too much of the detailed work. This is what the unselfish leader delegates to others.
  2. Focusing more on results achieved than the exact methods of completion. Don’t assume that you have a monopoly on how best to get the work done. Different people work in different ways. Value and encourage this diversity, even if it leads to some uncomfortable times for you. Encourage your people to learn to understand more about their most and least effective ways of working. And to do the same for their staff.
  3. Making the time to learn more about the organisation and broadening their understanding of the market. You cannot be effective if you only ‘see’ the world through your narrow specific functional area. Learn to appreciate the context in which your organisation operates, to understand more about what other functions contribute to the organisation’s overall purpose and success.
  4. Participating in activities outside of their functional area of expertise. An extension of 3 above. Get involved in additional tasks and projects that expose you to different areas of the business. Learn, learn and learn some more. Meet people, get to know them. Build strong mutually supportive relationships. These relationships are the foundation of your future success. Treat them as they wish to be treated and you will earn their respect.
  5. Delegating the best or choice assignments as much as the routine. It’s so easy to reserve the best, most exciting projects and tasks to yourself. So easy and so selfish. Don’t! Let your people take them on. Let them learn from them. Demonstrate that you have their best interests at heart. It will help ensure they develop their skills, increase their engagement and their motivation. That means they are more likely to approach the essential but mundane, day-to-day tasks with equal enthusiasm and commitment.
  6. Making time to help others. Be generous with your time and share your skills, experience and ideas with others.
  7. Letting others learn through their mistakes. If you want people to learn, you need to let them have some rope and occasionally hang themselves. It’s far more effective than telling them what will happen. Of course you may find that they surprise you. What you expected to fail may actually turn out to be a success. Either way, offering people space to sometimes fail without getting shot is another powerful way to build their confidence, skills and motivation. As an unselfish leader your role is to give them that space. You do that having measured and understood the risks. That remains your responsibility.
  8. Enabling others to come up with their own answers to problems. Too much telling turns people off. If you persist in giving people the answers to their problems they soon stop trying to learn for themselves. They rapidly become dependent on you. You’ll find that they can’t take the initiative. Prevent this by becoming a great coach. Coach people to help them discover answers for themselves. Step by step you’ll be developing stronger, more effective people, who will see you for the great unselfish person you are. Someone who has helped others succeed.
  9. Allowing others to be the ‘expert’. When you were on the way up, you were expected to be the expert. That’s what your reputation was built on. Now you’re at the top, you must stop trying to be the expert. Let others do that. Its one of the hardest aspects of being an Unselfish Leader. Because every fibre of your being wants you to stay in your comfort zone. You’ve been there, done it and received the T shirt. So what – you cannot be a functional expert and be good at leading. What you, your staff and the business need is for you to increase the breadth of your knowledge.
  10. Sharing the credit when others succeed. Be delighted when others do great work. Ensure their successes are communicated. Promote them rather than yourself. Let them become your ambassadors. Others will see this and decide that they want to work for you. You’ll have access to the best talent in your organisation.
  11. Sharing their internal and external networks with others. Unselfish Leaders know that their primary role is to ensure their organisations success. Connections and networks hold the power to achieve this, so they happily share their networks and make the necessary connections.
  12. Successfully selling or advocating the ideas and work of others. If someone has a great idea, be open to it. Actively support and promote it. Avoid the ‘not invented here’ syndrome. You don’t have time for negative or insular thinking. Only insecure selfish managers take this approach.
  13. Allowing others to do their work without micro-managing them. Micro-management is the hallmark of the Selfish Manager. For the Unselfish Leader it is something to be avoided at all costs. Letting go, through effective delegation, builds your staff’s confidence and increases their trust in you. It does the same thing for you. As your people increase in capability, so your trust and confidence in them increases and you let go even further. In time you build a team of people who can do more, more quickly than you could possibly achieve on your own.
  14. Successfully co-ordinating and integrating the work of others to create business solutions. This is the overarching role played by unselfish leaders. They craft better futures based on the work of others. They achieve by harnessing people’s talents and passions so delivering far more than any one person could do on their own.

If you can approach the rest of your life as an Unselfish Leader by showing a true and unqualified ‘generosity of spirit’ to all those you work, live and play with then sooner or later you’ll reap the considerable benefits.

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