"It's not about me." A Recent Example of Selfless Leadership
As part of my position in the military, I debrief my senior enlisted and officers twice a year. At the end of each session, I always ask them what I can do to help them. It might be to assist them in preparing for selection boards to the next rank, additional training for their position, or something along those lines. I’m overjoyed that I typically receive a great range of requests as distinctive and unusual as each individual is. For me, this is part of being a leader and ensuring my personnel have the resources and support they need to be successful.
But recently I was debriefing with one of my senior enlisted who was just selected for the rank of Master Chief, or E9. Being selected for Master Chief is a great honor; for his specialty, only 5 were chosen this year. He is a rock star; always professional, always taking care of the troops, the go-to guy in the command. As I was speaking to him, I was struck by his effortless and understated leadership style. Each time I tried to congratulate him on being selected or praise him for his achievements, he deflected. "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for the mentorship of A, B, and C person", "I'm just doing the job the best I can." "It's a great Command; the Department Heads doing fantastic work which makes my job easy."
It was a bit maddening.... every single time I tried to give him a personal accolade, he turned it around. In his mind, it was never about him. It was about the command, the troops, and others.
His philosophy was simply to work hard in your current position. He was not priming, planning, or angling to attain that next position or rank. For him, if you concentrated on your current job and gave 110%, others would recognize you for your efforts and select you for that next position. And he was right.
After I hung up the phone from the debrief, I sat back and understood why he was selected to be a Master Chief.
So many of us are always looking for what is next; what can I do to achieve X, Y, or Z? And many of us are sabotaging ourselves by doing so at the expense of the productivity and success of our current position. The essence of selfless leadership is to leave a lasting and positive change in the organization, whether it is the military or corporate America. Selfless leaders shape the lives of those they lead with a reputation that is not forgotten.
We need to ask ourselves, are we focused on enabling and achieving the success of the organization and our subordinates? Are we willing to risk our own success to do so?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.