One question to determine your focus as a leader

On a recent trip to Chicago, I got to catch up with a friend that I had not seen in 28 years.  We talked about family and the paths of our lives, and as luck would have it, we also talked about leadership.

My friend David has spent many years in software development.  He told me that he had some great bosses and some terrible bosses, but he could always predict the kind of leader they would be by how they answered this question:

“Who is more important, your boss or your employees?”

He said that if people said “their boss”, he knew that there would be micromanaging, political games, under-the-bus throwing, posturing, and general butt-kissing.  Employees were treated as second-class citizens, and they felt it!

On the other hand, if a leader said “my employees” are more important, David said the results were the exact opposite.  He said this meant the focus was on support, development, and growth for the employee, PLUS being an advocate for the employees with the rest of management.

He also went on to tell me about one of his best bosses, who happened to be a terrible “manager”.  David’s examples of this person’s poor management skills were: approving vacation time 6 weeks after the vacation happened, not knowing everything about the software business, and never having a performance review.

“However”, David said, “I never felt like I needed a performance review because I always knew where I stood.  We didn’t need a formal process to let me know how I was doing, my boss communicated that to me just about everyday.  To me, that’s a much better place to be than having a once-or-twice-a-year blindside about your performance because your manager praised you all year instead of being honest about how you could improve.”


The last morsel of leadership goodness we talked about was that David CHOSE to not go into a leadership role during his career. “A lot of people chose the leadership route because it was the only way to make more money.  I didn’t.  I really didn’t have the desire, nor did I feel like I wanted to develop the skill set.”

If you are going into a leadership role because you think you should (but don’t want to), or if you are only in it for the money, chances are you will be more interested in pleasing your boss than your employees.

And now we know how well that turns out…

What do you think? Where is your focus?

Thanks for reading!


About the author: During this visit with David, Matt tried his first “baked pancake”. It was at Richard Walker’s Pancake House just outside of Chicago. Matt got the “Baked Cinnamon Pecan Pancake“. It was pretty amazing!


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