A single arrow is easily broken, but not ten in a bundle.

– Japanese proverb

 The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I.’ And that’s not because
they have trained themselves not to say ‘I.’ They don’t think ‘I.’ They think ‘we’; they think ‘team.’ They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but ‘we’ gets the credit…. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.

-Peter Drucker


All great leaders have visions and ideas that can be cultivated into phenomenal success stories. However, we must not fail to recognize that any great vision cannot be executed without a team of key players.

A leader is responsible for taking that initial step that gets the ball rolling, but a team is what puts that leader’s vision into action and makes it happen. For example, Bill Gates had a vision, but Microsoft was not made up of Bill Gates alone. He had a team of players that he counted on to execute (and often even improve upon) every vision he had.  And Microsoft is still doing well without Gates at the helm, the true test of leadership.  Yes, it may be true that an organization begins as the vision of that organization’s leader, but the participation of the employees and team members is what ensures that the vision will evolve and come to fruition. One person alone cannot take a great vision and make it happen on their own.  So if a leader is not building a team, developing their expertise, trust, creativity and engaging them in shaping the vision, improving the vision and executing the vision, then what is it that they do rely on?

They rely on their “instincts”. They rely on their “inner voice”. They rely on no one but themselves to take their organization in the direction it needs to go. These leaders think they know what’s best for their organization and usually only see their employees as tools to get the work done. They are not engaging their employees’ hearts, minds and souls into the  work. They work within a closed mindset and rarely allow the views or opinions of anyone else to get in the way of what they think is right. They believe that they do the best thinking in the company—a scary thought if one is thinking of succession planning.   Even if they are the best thinker in the company, the employees have knowledge, insights and experiences that can truly add value to the vision and execution.  Without engaging the minds and hearts of the employees, the company is ultimately at risk.  While most leaders ultimately recognize this, often it is too late.

A leader’s unwillingness to seek input from others shows not only a lack of understanding of the needs of others, but a lack of understanding of the needs of their business. We were engaged by a large print shop with multiple locations even though our work is usually regional. One location was consolidated into another and as the company hired new workers, management failed to seek the input of the employees in their decision  making.  For example, instead of running four presses (as would have been needed to accommodate the number of orders the print shop had) they were only running two and demanding that employees work six days a week. Then, to make matters worse, one of the presses was in poor repair and desperately needed to be replaced. Granted, a new press of this caliber could cost a few million dollars, but the contracts that could be lost due to the presses not functioning properly totaled in the tens of millions per year.

Regardless, management wanted to hear nothing of what the employees were telling them. Quality was suffering due to employee exhaustion combined with inadequate resources. Morale decreased, sick days increased and people began to leave. What could have been a flourishing company became a floundering company – all because they wouldn’t listen to the voices of the people who were willing to help them get things in order.

The truth is, we all suffer from our own biases. We all assume that we know what is best. But how can we possibly know everything there is to know without input from our team members? In the example of the print shop, wouldn’t it have made sense if the people in the corporate offices listened to those who were actually working on the presses? They see the  orders. They see the work. They clearly see the problems that are preventing the company from achieving its goals. But all of this information is lost and it is lost for one reason – an unwillingness to listen.

The truth is, to be a great leader you have to be willing to work with your team and help. You have to be willing to listen to them. Great leaders are the leaders who are driven to help their teams and their employees by tapping into the knowledge base, talents and experience that those employees have to offer.  They understand that by serving their employees in the service of their customers, everyone can prosper.

It is crucial, when being a great leader, that you never forget that leadership is much bigger than just any one person. It’s about what you, as a leader, will foster in others who are willing to follow you and it’s about creating an environment and relationships that will make others want to follow you and provide you with the input you need for success. In the end, no corporation can achieve its fullest potential without a collective effort.

There is no doubt that each leader has the ability to make a difference, but you need to understand that working towards your objectives means working together with your team and your employees to achieve a shared goal and then celebrating that goal once it has been met. That is what leadership is about.