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  • Writer's pictureElissa Shuck

How To Be The Best Leader

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

The topic of leadership is one that I am crazy passionate about. It’s a topic I've studied, read many books about and lived as a team leader and company executive.

It's my favorite subject because it’s one that I believe changes people and changes businesses. Now there's many nuances to leadership. But I'm going to cover one particular piece of the leadership puzzle in this article. Broadly speaking, I’m going to share how you can be the best leader for yourself, for your team and for your organization.

Be a better leader? The author that gave me a simple and profound view of leadership is Max DePree. He was the son of D.J. DePree, founder of Herman Miller office furniture company. He led the company alongside his brother in the 60’s and created a guide for company culture that influenced me so strongly when it comes to leadership.

Max DePree’s ideas about leadership shaped every piece of my style. It sparked my passion about people early on in my career and in my work now, as a life coach.

So, I’ll start with this quote from his book “Leadership Is an Art”

“To be a leader means having the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who permit leaders to lead.”

Pause and think about that. We are only leaders because people have permitted us to do so. People, by choosing to be employed with your company, to be part of your team, they're giving you permission to lead and it's a big responsibility.

I think it's healthy to feel the weight of responsibility that you have as a leader on your team and in your company, in your church, in your family, and the ways, shapes and forms that you interact with people and groups. When you have the opportunity to lead, when someone has given you permission to do that, it is just an awesome, awesome thing.

So, I want to take you through some of the principles I learned from the book and give you some practical applications for your role and work as a leader. And it comes down to this simple thought:

What it means to lead = what it means to serve.

Servant Leadership

I hope you’re curious about the idea of servant leadership because I believe as you read through these simple principles around the idea, you’ll find they are easy to add to your leadership skillset and will elevate your influence in all the places you where you lead.

I’d like to cover three aspects of servant leadership. What that looks like in practical application and in philosophy.

The first principle is people over structure.

Next we'll talk about the power of potential.

And finally, their success first.

I know you’ll agree that the whole point of being in leadership and being part of a company, everything that we're doing, is about solving people's problems; getting customers or clients results. And if you're part of an organization, then you are doing that through your people. And the way you get there is by leading them in the right way, leading them to results.

So, let's just dive right in.

People Over Structure

What do I mean by people over structure? It’s relationships first. As a leader, you are responsible for creating environments and work processes.

You’re responsible for creating a whole culture where people can develop high quality relationships because when they have high quality relationships with each other, with the group, with the customers and clients, this creates better results.

Because it comes down to meaningful and consistent communication.

Stephen Covey said, start with the end in mind. It's relationships that enable us to do that.

The next thing I want to talk about is roving leadership. This is a phrase that Max uses in the book, and what it means is giving up leadership to someone else for a time or a in a specific situation.

Most companies have a hierarchy. You go to your manager; your manager goes to their manager and so on. But there are times inside an organization, where roving leadership makes sense. Where someone who doesn't necessarily have a title becomes a leader for a time.

You see this happen in meetings. It happens in opportunities when people share their knowledge with each other. When a project comes along when you find out that someone on your team has a special gift or talent and you get to elevate them to a leadership position as a roving leader on the team or in the company.

That's what we're talking about here. Keep an eye out for those kinds of opportunities. And if you're a leader, please don't feel threatened by this. Understand that roving leadership creates opportunities that are ways to strengthen your team. It’s your chance to hand off leadership to people in a way that helps them show up, contribute and grow.

You're creating a ripple effect of trust and sharing and creating a higher-level job performance.

The next one is what Max calls participative leadership or a participatory type culture or style. What this means, when you're leading and managing in this participative style, is that decisions aren’t arbitrary, secret, or closed to questioning.

It's an open invitation for everyone in the company to have awareness of what's going on, for leaders to be transparent and share openly, to create an open dialogue. It's what IDEO calls design thinking. If you think about it that way, which is really bringing in diversity, bringing in different ideas and thoughts and allowing everyone to participate, it makes the whole organization stronger.

Yes, the buck will stop with a final decision by a leader in most circumstances. There are times when decisions need to be made and you can't run it like a democracy, but when you allow people to participate, ask questions and you create a sense of visibility and transparency, then everyone feels like they've contributed.

They feel like they've been heard. Even if it doesn't go their way every time, there is such power and validation in allowing people to be heard. This style of allowing people to participate is incredibly empowering.

The Power of Potential

Now let's talk about the power of potential. Out of these three things. I believe this is the cornerstone of servant leadership and the key component of maximizing the performance of companies and teams.

And I'll tell you why. One of the things is being future minded. And when I talk about being future minded, I think of sports. I think of teams. I think of athletes.

Almost every single team sport has a recruiting process that keeps the future in mind. They hire, they recruit based on the potential of that candidate to fit with the team culture, to contribute at a high level.

Football players coming straight out of college have a history of college success, but that’s no guarantee of success in the pros. But they’re hired for their potential to perform. And then you've got guys that are free agents or walk-ons that do amazingly well because if you’re always looking at the future for your candidates and your company, you see potential and you take risks. You see the big picture.

Next is recognizing gifts and talents.

Throughout the process of projects and assignments and professional growth on your team you must recognize gifts and talents. Everybody comes to a workplace with what you’ve hired them to do, and the qualities necessary to succeed in the role. That is a given.

What I'm challenging you to do now is look beyond those basic requirements listed on the job description and recognize the fact that everybody is coming to your organization, to your team, with gifts and talents that may not be readily apparent.

You need to do a little digging. You need to create an environment and create opportunities for people to share their gifts and talents. It’s for their own personal satisfaction and sense of purpose, as well as for the company.

And the last thing I want to challenge you with in terms of the power of potential is being committed to developing your team, to developing your people. Again, with the future in mind and knowing that they have interests, gifts and strengths waiting to be unleashed.

Being committed to your team's professional development means higher employee engagement, which is a benefit to your people as well as to the company as a whole. Studies show engaged employees are happy. And they stay. This is good for them and you as a business leader. There are several ways to do this. What I like best about companies that provide life coaching is that it’s giving people an opportunity to experience growth on a professional and personal level inside their work environment.

And the results are phenomenal. Studies show self-confidence improves 80%. What would higher self-confidence do for your team members? They would step up. They would do more. We've also seen 72% improved communication skills. Overall job performance has been shown to improve 70% and time management improves 57%.

How amazing would it be if everyone on your team managed their time 57% better than they do now?

These are the kinds of things leading in a way that's committing to developing your people in creative ways is going to do for you. And, ultimately, that translates into better results for the company.

The last of these three pieces of servant leadership is:

Their success first.

The first aspect of their success first is what I call a by-product strategy. When you set your team up for success, when you make sure that they have all the tools and resources they need, your success is a by-product of their success.

Go into leading with that mindset. This isn't about you succeeding as a leader. This is about you creating success for your team, for an enabling and empowering their success because when they succeed, you succeed. Every result you get as a leader is a by-product of the success of your team. Never forget that.

Next is setting clear expectations. You can have a long list of expectations, but honestly, I think there's only three must haves.

Share your knowledge.

Be open to learning.

And treat others with respect and dignity.

Those are foundational. And when you set them as job performance expectations and you give your team examples of what that looks like in your workplace, what that looks like on your team, you're setting clear standards of excellence and when those expectations aren't met, or as I like to say, when opportunities for improvement show up, and you have to have a conversation, there are no surprises. It's more of an aha moment. It doesn't feel threatening.

When you set clear expectations, 9 times out of 10, your employee, your team member is going to say, yep, I know I haven't been stepping up. And then you get a chance to dialogue on how to change that.

Last, but of course, not least is accountability for all.

You want your employees to be accountable to you, but you need to be accountable to them. Follow through with the things that you say you're going to do. Hold yourself accountable. To what you say and let your team know that they can hold you accountable to that. There's a trust and a comfort level there. It creates space for them to come to you with something they need and to follow up on what you said you would provide.

Being accountable to them means you show up in a greater way for them. And if you fall short, like we all do sometimes, you don’t need to feel threatened or embarrassed by it.

It’s your chance to be grateful. They're holding you accountable to be the leader that you know you can be. And they’re trusting you with their careers. And as a leader, that is a, just an awesome, awesome privilege.

I’ll end with another quote from Max:

“When we think about leaders and the variety of gifts people bring to work, we see that the art of leadership lies and polishing and liberating and enabling those gifts.”

Your team is like a gift-wrapped package.

They have all kinds of potential, all kinds of talent, and you get to participate in empowering them to use those gifts. Unwrapping that awesome package that is the team and the person in your company, is your way of serving because you care about what's been entrusted to you, both in the people that you lead, and in the end, the contribution that you make to the company.

I hope that this has given you some things to think about. Maybe it's validated the way you're leading and will help motivate you to keep going. Maybe there's new things that you've learned. I hope that it makes a difference.

And if you ever want to talk with me more about this, as I said at the beginning, this is one of my favorite topics on the planet.

How do your leadership skills measure up?

Are you drawing the best out of yourself and your team?

Do you have a strategy for elevating your leadership skills?

If you want to go deeper into this topic and develop your own leadership skills or create a leadership development program for your company, I can help you. In fact, it would be my honor to do so.

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn (Elissa Shuck). My business page on Facebook is strategicelissa. On Instagram I’m @strategic_elissa. And my email is

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