In the "I" centric world of today there are dozens of stories and articles of those larger than life ego driven leaders who produce dramatic results but typically never have the staying power to keep those results coming. Contrast this to those leaders who through determination and focus on a singleness of purpose achieve great things for their company but prefer to stay out of the spotlight. Jim Collins call these folks "Level 5" leaders.
The same contrasts can be made for those working on your team, employees who demand all your attention or employees who demonstrate high engagement and with it a compelling humility. They prefer to stay in the background, working hard and staying focused on what is best for the company and they never let ego get in the way. Another way to describe them would be the old term "they are pillars of the community."
Sprint vs Marathon
It is a bit like comparing sprinters to distance runners in the Olympics. Quick now, who is the fastest man on the planet at the 100-yard dash? Now, who is the world record holder for the marathon? If you said Usain Bolt for the first question you would be right. If you said Patrick Makau for the second question you probably looked it up on Wikipedia like I just did! Isn't it funny how the fast movers get our attention? Yet in business, if you were honest with yourself, who would you prefer to have on your team, the fast mover or the marathoner?
The Kerry Group
Take the example of the Kerry Group. Never heard of them? Don't be surprised, the Kerry Group has been shepherded by a series of modest leaders since its inception in 1972. They began as a small confectionery provider in the back of a trailer. It was headed at the time by a young accountant Denis Brosnan who was followed by two more low-key chief executives, Hugh Friel and Stan McCarthy. Still never heard of them? Under the guidance of these leaders the Kerry Group grew to a global company that employs more than 25,000 people with operations in over 25 countries across five continents. They are now a leading player in the global food industry with annual sales at almost $7 billion (U.S.). What makes this an even more interesting success story is that Kerry is an Irish company who succeeded without one dollar of government assistance. Here was a company based out of Ireland that weathered all the economic turmoil in that countries downturn when companies all around them were dropping like flies. Not only did they survive, they prospered. Other companies had the "sprinters" such as real estate developer Sean Dunne who went out in a blaze of glory when the Irish market crashed but the Kelly Group had the good fortune to be headed by quiet, modest leadership and employees were selected around that trait as well and it prospered.
When you go on the Kerry web-site you will see very little about its leaders, you will see a lot more about its mission and its commitment to the success of its employees and the well being of the communities they live in. In a day and age where employee engagement is so crucial to company health and growth, leadership and employees willing to invest in and provide for a meaningful role for everyone on the team will always do better than those companies that serve as platform for the uber-egos that join them for their own gain.
So why is modesty a key feature of good employee engagement? I believe it is what balances the first two traits we have already discussed; urgency for all things good for the company and situational awareness or a willingness to invest in the success of others. You cannot focus your ambition on the good of the company if your agenda takes priority over the good of the company every time a tough choice has to be made. You cannot invest in the success of others if your only concern is for your welfare and not theirs. Engaged employees are modest and know when to let others shine for the good of the team. People can become amazingly invested in a company if they come to understand that the company is genuinely investing in them and they are working on a team of engaged staff who exhibit these same traits.
What Do You See On Your Team?
So my questions for you are what are you looking for in your employees? Can you identify the traits you need for your team? Do you know how to grow and encourage those traits? If you can’t answer these questions with certainty, then my response to you is what are you going to do to change that? Performance Leadership – Think About It!
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