Good leadership is about people, not bottom line

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In "Mentor Leader," Tony Dungy, the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl, writes that the secret to success is good leadership — and good leadership is all about making the lives of your team members or workers better. An excerpt.

The mandate of a mentor leader: Focus on significance

On January 24, 2010, as I sat in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium, watching the Indianapolis Colts celebrate their victory over the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game, I couldn’t help but reflect on my relationships with the five men who now stood on the podium at midfield, handing the championship trophy from one man to the next—owner Jim Irsay, general manager Bill Polian, head coach Jim Caldwell, and team captains Peyton Manning and Gary Brackett.

I felt a measure of satisfaction that day, knowing that each of these leaders — along with the rest of the team — had committed to a common vision and a common goal at the beginning of the season. The goal, of course, was to win a championship, but along with that, everyone was concerned with raising the performance of all the others, with helping them become better players, better coaches, and better men. Each man had a different role and responsibility in accomplishing that goal, but they had all been united in purpose and in their pursuit of excellence. And now they were able to celebrate their success together.

Not only were these men leaders in a positional sense within the organization — and thus were enjoying the team’s success — but they had also embraced the principles of mentor leadership and were leaders in a relational sense as well. If they hadn’t established the types of relationships they had with each other and with the other coaches and team members, but had only counted wins and losses, they would not have had the same level of positive influence on each other, and the season would not have been as successful. But I knew these men were good, grounded people, whose desire in everything they did was to make each other better — which, in my view, is a more accurate measure of success than wins and losses. It is also a defining characteristic of a mentor leader.

Unity of purpose and a desire to make other people better must start at the top if these goals are going to ripple through an entire organization. But, unfortunately, the opposite is equally true. I think we’ve all seen examples of the head coach who sits down at the table in the media room after the game, still basking in the afterglow of the big win. Behind him is the backdrop with the team logo and the corporate sponsor of the day, and as the coach answers the reporters’ questions, he uses words such as we, us, and our, but what he really means is I, me, and my. And everyone on his team knows it — from the assistant coaches, who are often pushed aside or belittled in practice; to the players, who incur the coach’s wrath if they do not perform exactly as expected; to the members of the support staff, who are treated as less than human; to the families, who are not allowed anywhere near the workplace for fear they’ll cause a loss of focus — or worse, that their presence might reorient the team’s priorities away from winning games. After a while, people see through the talk when it doesn’t line up with the walk.

When a team wins or a business is successful, the families of the players or the workers may be excited for the moment; but when they count the cost, I wonder how many would say that the temporary accomplishment outweighs all the memories missed or the bonds not formed. Or, worse yet, maybe they have been programmed over time to believe that the all-encompassing sacrifice of family, community, time — or anything other than what it takes to win games, close sales, or build a business—is an accepted part of life, simply what is required to achieve the number one priority: winning.

Sadly, such “accomplishment” without significance will ultimately prove to be meaningless and without lasting value. Mentor leaders insist on more and define success in a much more robust and well-rounded way.

Mentor leaders put people first
Shortsighted leadership focuses primarily on the bottom line. In football, it’s wins and losses and playoff berths. In business, it’s quarterly profits, shareholder equity, and sales targets. Not that these things aren’t important — they are. But when they become the primary focus of a business or a team, they inevitably result in an organization that is out of balance. Leaders whose definition of success depends on such a short-term focus — and by short-term I mean temporal, noneternal — will one day wake up to discover they’ve missed out on what is truly important in life, namely, meaningful relationships.

When life in the workplace is all about results and outcomes, it’s easy to adopt the same mind-set in other venues as well. Thus, we have parents who scream at the umpire at Little League games, or browbeat their kids into getting straight A’s, or harp on the players they coach in Pee Wee football about being “mentally tough.” At home, in the limited time left for family, they’re tempted to criticize if the house isn’t just so or to cram in everything they want their spouses or kids to know, instead of taking time to build the kind of family relationships that God intends.

In our society, whether we’ll admit it or not, the prevailing attitude is that the ends justify the means. We tell ourselves that “quality time” can make up for a lack of quantity time and that as long as we achieve whatever temporary, worldly goal we’re pursuing, all is well. Just keep climbing. We think our spouses and kids need us first to be successful, and then we’ll have time to be an important part of their lives.

We rationalize this kind of fuzzy thinking until we really begin to believe that our example, our impact, and our value to others — family, friends, and coworkers — are measured by what we produce and by the worldly things we accumulate. Our society loves and respects awards, degrees, money, status, achievement, and image. Just look at the accolades we heap upon business tycoons, movie stars, professional athletes ... and football coaches.

But without meaningful relationships, relationships we invest ourselves in, what does it all amount to?

That’s an easy one to answer: dust.

If you take only one thing from this book, let it be this: Relationships are ultimately what matter — our relationships with God and with other people. The key to becoming a mentor leader is learning how to put other people first. You see, the question that burns in the heart of the mentor leader is simply this: What can I do to make other people better, to make them all that God created them to be?

A life spent focused on things of the world will not add value to the lives of others.

Instead of asking, how can I lead my company, my team, or my family to a higher level of success? we should be asking ourselves, how do others around me flourish as a result of my leadership? Do they flourish at all? How does my leadership, my involvement in their lives — in whatever setting we’re in — have a positive and lasting influence and impact on them?

If influence, involvement, improvement, and impact are core principles of mentor leadership, how can we make them central to everything we do? That’s the question I intend to answer in the pages to follow.

Simply stated, leadership is influence. By influencing another person, we lead that person. Leadership is not dependent on a formal position or role. We can find opportunities for leadership wherever we go. Likewise, leadership is not based on manipulation or prescription, though sometimes it may appear that way to an outside observer. By keeping our motives aligned with doing the best for those around us, we will keep ourselves focused on being a positive influence.

I recognize that the world is not necessarily lacking in leadership books. There is certainly no shortage in the bookstores — and everyone from professors with PhDs to “successful” business executives to politicians and entrepreneurs have gotten in on the act. Even football coaches have joined the crowd of voices espousing leadership principles — or at least ideas for winning football games. Many of these authors have good things to share, but most are not other-oriented enough for me. Maybe I’ve missed something, but most leadership books I’ve seen are too much about the leader, too much about the “me.” Too much about improving the bottom line or upgrading the readers’ status as leaders instead of having a positive impact on those they are called to lead. I once heard an executive say in an interview, “Of course I know how to lead. I’ve been in charge of one thing or another for the last thirty years.” It may well be that this person knows how to lead, but simply “being in charge” is not evidence of leadership or leadership ability.

So much of what has been written about leadership focuses on positional leadership, that is, that one’s status, or being in charge, determines whether one is a leader. But you don’t have to look very far to see examples of people at the top of organizational charts who have very few leadership skills. Think about it: It’s much easier to look like a leader when your followers know they can be fired for noncompliance or disobedience. But that type of oversight, governance, direction, and supervision is not what I mean when I talk about leadership — and, in particular, mentor leadership. Mentor leaders understand that if we lose sight of people, we lose sight of the very purpose of leadership.

One’s position, or status, can supply part of the equation, but that is only a piece. In fact, many of the most effective leaders I’ve seen do not have positional authority over the people they lead. In my experience, some of the best examples of mentor leadership come from men and women whose influence extends to people who are not their subordinates.

Mentor leadership focuses on relationships and positive influence because success in temporal things can be so fleeting. At the end of it all, sometimes you reach the organizational goals you’ve set, and sometimes you don’t. But either way, if you’re a leader, people’s lives should be better because of the influence you’ve had along the way.

Excerpted from "Mentor Leader" by Tony Dungy. Copyright (c) 2010, reprinted with permission from Tyndale House Publishers. For more information, click here.