“Beyond You Leadership”

“Beyond You Leadership”

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It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to seek one’s own honor –Proverbs 25:27.

Years ago, I had the enlightening experience of conducting two case studies, each focusing on the CEO of a company. For the sake of this article we’ll call these companies A and B. I spent several days at each site interviewing the chief executive, his direct reports, and 30 rank and file members of the organization. I observed the CEO’s leadership style and how he related with his staff and others within the organization.

My research revealed that while these two companies were in the same type of business and of comparable size, and that talented staffs surrounded both executives, Company A was scrambling just to maintain the status quo, while Company B was growing rapidly. In Company A, the plateaued organization, several of the staff voiced frustration with their CEO, and in general there was an attitude of “our best days are probably behind us.” In contrast, within Company B optimism and job satisfaction reigned.

I concluded that the difference in the performance of these two organizations was essentially a function of leadership. Company A was led by an executive with the tendency Israel’s King Solomon warned against in Proverbs 25:27. The other CEO was a “beyond you leader.” Allow me to explain.

It’s no secret that many leaders enjoy making most of the decisions that affect the organization, having others defer to them in meetings, occupying a corner office, “running the show.” In other words, they “seek their own honor,” which the proverb compares to eating too much honey. Sweet as honey is, and healthy as it is in moderation, too much of it makes us sick. While honor accompanies a job well done, a good thing, for a leader to focus on seeking honor for himself is too much of a good thing and makes for a sick leader.

Company A’s CEO tried to do virtually everything. He was controlling and seemed a bit paranoid. Among his direct reports, all obviously capable, morale was low and frustration high. Because the CEO was determined to “seek his own honor” his staff felt hampered in their efforts to make a significant contribution to the company.

Company B’s executive, on the other hand, was a “beyond you leader” (BYL), a description that I became acquainted with only recently. At Leadercast Live 2014, leadership communicator Andy Stanley defined BYLs as leaders who fearlessly and selflessly empower leaders around them as well as those coming along behind them.

Stanley outlined three ways that BYLs leverage their power for the benefit of those around them. One, they refuse to make decisions others can make. Instead of making all the decisions, when possible the BYL says to his people, “You decide” (I’ve tried saying this lately, and while it still feels somewhat awkward, I’m beginning to like it). Two, according to Stanley, the BYL makes a habit of working for the team. He asks, “How can I use my power to help you get done what I hired you to do?” Then, third, the BYL empties his cup, meaning that he pours into others what he knows, making certain his people know what he knows about what they are working on.

Although my case study write up did not refer to Company B’s executive as a BYL, had I at the time been familiar with this terminology it would have. Based both on what his people told me and what I witnessed, that’s the kind of fearless, selfless, empowering leader he was. It’s also the kind of leader that you and I should strive to be. For, as Andy Stanley concluded, if our leadership is not all about us, it will live beyond us. But if it is all about us, the only way it will live beyond us is in serving as somebody’s illustration of a bad example.

Dr. Jim Furr