Last week I was helping out at a local father-son summer camp outside of Calgary called Arcatheos. A lot of theatrics and explosions and all those great things. We like to joke that it’s a camp for teaching boys to become men and men to become boys again.
Leadership Requires Service
This year the theme of the camp was “To Serve is to Reign”. We really focused in on this theme of service with the teenagers who would become our version of camp counselors, called “knights.” To be able to effectively lead the boys in their charge, they couldn’t simply order them around all day without a care for their well-being. They had to be emotionally invested in both the boys they were in charge of and in the other members of their teams. with that emotional investment, every order or directive is followed because the boys know its for the good of the camp and themselves.
I was struck by how well this carries into the workplace. If an employee feels that his boss is invested in him and his life, that he’s not just another cog in the machine, the extra overtime needed to finish an important project becomes a lot easier to deal with. It no longer feels like a forced task from a faceless overlord but like an urgent request from a friend.
We taught the “knights” that the easiest way to serve their boys is to respect them. If you respect those around you, they’re more inclined to respect you. If they respect you, they’re more likely to incorporate your feedback into their behaviour and truly listen to what you’re asking them to do. They won’t merely sit around after completely a task waiting for you to hand them the next one, and instead they’ll proactively seek out ways to be helpful.
Don’t be a Drill Instructor (unless you are one)
Meanwhile, if those under you feel they have to walk on eggshells around you with even the slightest mistake causing them to get raked over the metaphorical coals, they might try to work their hardest to not make a mistake, but a lot of their attention that could go towards doing their job right is now going towards watching over their shoulder to make sure they haven’t awoken the dragon. In addition, if given a choice, people prefer leaders who are caring and compassionate instead of leaders who are taskmasters and drill instructors. So if your employees have a choice, they will eventually leave for greener pastures.
Don’t be a Door Mat
At the same time, you won’t have respect if your employees feel they can walk all over you. If missed deadlines are never a problem, unexpected absences are rampant, and no one listens to your instructions, sure, you won’t have employees flocking to leave your company in droves for better conditions, but you’ll also obviously end up with inefficient employees wasting the company’s time and money. Resulting in them, and probably you, being let go.
Be a Compassionate AND Effective Leader
Instead of either of those two extremes, a synthesis of the two is required. There are times when you need to lay down the law and reprimand the people working for you. There are also times when those people need an ear to understand the problems and difficulties they’re facing and a helpful hand to guide them. Using only one method or the other cripples your leadership abilities and it is only when you are both firm and compassionate as a leader that you will earn the respect and trust of those underneath you and unleash your full potential.
Ultimately, these leadership lessons we taught to the boys are vital for everyone, whether or not they’re currently in a position that requires leadership. Everyone at some point in their lives will be in charge of something. Whether that’s a multi-million dollar project or 10 children at a summer camp, no matter how large or small the opportunity effective compassionate leadership inevitably leads to further leadership opportunities down the road.