Leading: Are You Doing It for Them or for You? -- Blog Post


Leading: Are You Doing It for Them or for You?


When perusing the literature on leadership published in the last 50 years, it becomes clear that at some point we decided that bosses can’t just order people around.

Being drunk on power, as it turns out, doesn’t necessarily create the most productive teams – nor is it sustainable.

From transformational leadership to servant leadership to conscious leadership, each of these styles offers a way for leaders to moderate the potential for abusing their power by providing an alternate definition of what it actually means to be a leader. I personally love all of them.

In her new book, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, author Emily Esfahani Smith does an exceptional job of explaining the science and the art behind crafting our lives around something that matters. And, in no uncertain terms, gives us good reason to do so. Although this book isn’t written specifically for leaders within organizations, it definitely speaks to the wisdom needed to lead our lives. Given that I don’t view leadership and life as exclusive categories, this book has much to offer within the organizational context, too.

The basic premise behind living a life of meaning is in sharp contrast to living a life of pleasure. While it is true that we need some version of both, a life of only pleasure is not necessarily lost on many modern day leaders. After acquiring the big house, the nice car, and a solid 401K, it isn’t surprising that many of us feel left at the altar with promises unfulfilled.

And the same is true with organizational leadership. The next promotion, title change, and acquisition, while invigorating at first, quickly fades.

Enter comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, an expert at controlling a room of thousands with nothing more than a microphone and his quick words, and an expert at making meaningful comedy.

Mr. Seinfeld was recently interviewed on CBS’s Sunday Morning. During the interview, Anthony Mason, asks him if he experiences a lot of power as a comedian. He responds with an emphatic, “Yes,” and also with a strong qualifier that his work is about generosity more than anything else. He has found meaning in his work as a comedian that is about giving something to the people he serves: his audience.

“If you’re doing it for you, that could be problematic cuz’ they’ll [the audience] know it. They’ll feel it, and they won’t like it.”

And the same is true with leadership.

Is it for them or is it for you?

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