Maybe it's because I've been binge watching The Good Place and I'm having a higher-than-usual number of moral philosophy conversations late into the night... but recently I can't stop myself from wondering about the validity of the phrase "good leader."
I've long since retired the concept of a "good person," so why would it make sense to hold onto the idea of a good leader?
Most of the people who follow my work are empathetic leaders, culture advocates, human resources professionals and the like... when I think of you all, I think of GOOD leaders. The ways in which you are thoughtful of others, proactive in your efforts to do better and to equip others to rise to the occasion alongside you; it's all so inspiring to me.
I think abandoning "good leader" language, however, will ultimately help you in your pursuit of becoming the best version of yourself and the strongest possible advocate for culture and culture-driven growth at your company. Here's why:
Video Spark Notes
The problem with the word "good:"
Problem #1. Good people hurt people too. It's easy to use the word "good" as a shield from opportunities to see problems and opportunities for growth in our teams. Integrity and intentions do not equal infallibility or consequences for missteps.
When people tell me after a talk that they're "so thankful they have such good people" at their companies, I get scared. Because that tells me I haven't effectively communicated that filling your company with good people is only step 1 (...and everyone has already done it, because there's no such thing as a "good person." More on that in Problem #2). Nobody leader actively thinks they have BAD people at their company, or they would fire them.
Problem #2. Good is relative. The concept of good does not exist outside of comparison. We cannot detect the presence of something good without a baseline understanding of something "usual" and a contrasting example of something "bad."
Those baseline and contrasting examples have nothing to do with the kind of leader you want to be. In order to be the best culture advocate and leader you can be, you don't calibrate your yardstick to "how other people do it." You measure success based on your intuition, your deeper knowing of whether or not you're standing in integrity, and essentially... your alignment.
So here's my invitation:
Stop asking "How do I be good?" and start asking "How do I be in alignment?"
You will have the answers you're looking for when you're in alignment. Getting into alignment is the first step in solving, confronting or exploring any problem. Getting into alignment means you've proactively entered a headspace that has full faith in three things:
Before you respond to that email. Before you post a new job listing. Before you accept the calendar invite to a meeting which will contain the exchange of feedback and perspectives. Before you take action of any kind on any subject in your work, get into alignment first.
Leaders who lead in alignment are the ones who are perceived to be good. This is because others leave interactions with them feeling good feelings: acceptance, appreciation, clarity, gratitude, connection... those feelings feel good, and therefore cast the person or situation which was the impetus for those feelings in a good light.
In addition to the increased likelihood that a leader who spreads those feelings around the office will have earned the loyalty, engagement and retention of their employees, that leader has also removed significant obstacles from their employee's optimal zone of productivity.
Employees cannot be optimally productive and effective when they're trying to cope with or compensate for the distractions of distrust, resentment, anger, or even worse: apathy. Good work is born out of good feelings.
You can be that kind of leader. You get closer to that lofty sounding aspiration by making the conscious choice to start your day in alignment, and to proactively get back into alignment ahead of every critical decision or confrontation. It's the soulful, unseen work of effective leaders, and it makes all the difference if you want an employee experience/employer brand that accurately and consistently matches your values and intentions.
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