Anybody can lead perfect people…
If there were any.
“Many otherwise able people are disqualified to lead because they cannot work with and through the half-people who are all there are,” writes Robert Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, his powerful book about leadership.
“It is part of the enigma of human nature that the ‘typical’ person—immature, stumbling, inept, lazy is capable of great dedication and heroism if he or she is wisely led.”
To build a high-performing organization, we must learn to “weld a team of such people by lifting them up to grow taller than they would otherwise be,” writes Robert.
Exactly how do we do this?
It begins with acceptance and empathy.
People “grow taller when those who lead them empathize and when they are accepted for what they are, even though their performance may be judged critically in terms of what they are capable of doing.”
Acceptance requires a tolerance of imperfection. Empathy requires us to project our own consciousness into another being.
The opposite of both acceptance and empathy is rejection: to refuse to hear or receive, to throw out.
“The servant as leader always empathizes, always accepts the person,” states Robert, “but sometimes refuses to accept some of the person’s effort or performance as good enough.”
Love the sinner. Hate the sin.
Great leaders “may have gruff, demanding, uncompromising exteriors. But deep down inside the great ones have empathy and an unqualified acceptance of the persons of those who go with their leadership,” Robert tells us.
“The interest in and affection for their followers which a leader has, is a mark of true greatness when it is genuine.”
Acceptance and empathy build trust which is the foundation for strong relationships.
Reflection: When in the past have I shown empathy for a colleague while challenging them to perform at a higher level?
Action: Set a goal to show greater empathy today.