Chris is my boss’s boss. He is one of the most down to earth leaders I’ve ever worked with. Recently, he gave me a new exciting project. The same reason that makes it rewarding also makes it scary. Simply put…high-risk, high-return.
Last week, while visiting the headquarter, I caught up with him.
“How are you feeling about it?” Chris asked me, referring to the project.
“To be honest, I am both excited and scared. I am not sure if I can make it,” Come to think about it, I shouldn’t be so candid and vulnerable with the big boss (who knows what he would think of me), but his authentic vibe made it comfortable and irresistible.
Then, I went on to describe my excitement and concerns. He listened attentively.
“It reminds me of one of my own projects, from many years ago,” he replied. “I was asked to revitalize a brand that was dying. It was sort of a do or die. No one knew if it would work. We just tried one step at a time. And like you, I was just a brand manager.”
“And what did you do?” I asked.
“My boss was one tough manager. She set a high bar for the project. But, come to think about it, she also took the shot on all the high-risk decisions. She made it clear that my job was to provide the best solutions humanly possible and hers was to take responsibility for the decisions including those that didn’t go well,” Chris said.
Then he said, “So, here’s my offer to you, Brandon. you do what’s humanly possible, the best you can. If it goes south, the blame is on me because the bucks stop with me, deal?”
He caught me by surprise and I wasn’t fishing for a safety net – my modus operandi has been the bucks stop with me. And I will (and ought to) own up to everything that happens to my business. But, I am proud that he offered because it reassured me that I am working for a kind empathetic human.
One of my favorite leadership books is “Leaders eat last” by Simon Sinek. He said that a leader’s most important task is to create a circle of safety for the team. It is a place where people feel safe to do their very best.
Leaders are expected to eat last because the true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.
On a separate note, this is why I think parenthood is the purest form of leadership. Our parents spend their life time putting our needs above theirs hoping for us to become a decent human being. And trust me, it is not hard being one if you choose to be.
That evening, Chris taught me how to “eat last” and I am inspired to pay it forward. This is one of the 20 minutes conversations that I’d probably remember for the next 20 years.
Small actions go a long way and if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.
“But, what if I don’t want to be a leader?” someone asked me once.
“Then… be a good human being,” I said.
If we strip away our titles – we are first and foremost a human being. So, Be kind to one another.
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