(This post was first published here on May 22, 2017.)

Over my twenty-five years of studying great leaders, I’ve come to believe that some leaders, maybe only ten to twenty percent, have an unfair advantage when they compete against other leaders.

This unfair advantage isn’t really unfair because any leader can do the things that I’m about to share. These things don’t take any special talents or gifts, and they don’t take a lot of extra time and effort, but most leaders aren’t willing to do them.

There are a few things that if added to being competent at what you do make a big difference in a leader’s organization. I’m not sure what to call these things, but I can give you some examples:

  • Some leaders don’t worry about who gets credit for significant accomplishments. In fact, these leaders try to give more credit to others than might be deserved. And when it comes to receiving credit, they try to grab less than they might deserve.
  • Some leaders think about other people’s needs and desires before they think of their own. It’s not that they don’t think of their own, but somehow they’ve learned to put those thoughts second to their customers’ or team’s needs and desires.
  • Some leaders work hard to get to know their customers and team to where they really feel known. These leaders don’t resist being known or understood themselves, but they seek first to understand and know others, and to make them feel understood.
  • Because these kinds of leaders know their customers and team quite well, they might go out of their way to do something nice for them that they could only know to do because of their deeper knowledge of these people.
  • Some leaders really do feel like they are there to serve their customers’ and team’s needs rather than to be served by them. They realize that a byproduct of their service will be some pretty good results, but they aren’t driven by that byproduct, they are somehow driven by serving their customers and their team.

I was part way through crafting this message, and I felt like I needed a break so I decided to make a run to my favorite bank here in Zeeland. (No, I won’t name names.) I dove toward the drive-thru and noticed somebody I know cleaning his windshield while being served by the teller. Then as I drove up further I realized there was a lady sitting in the driver’s seat of that car. I assumed it must have been his wife’s car, or maybe a friend’s, and jumped out to clean an annoying spot on the windshield.

Then I remembered that this person is a corporate leader at this bank. I’m often a little slow, but as he cleaned this lady’s windshield I started to put two and two together. He wasn’t doing this for his car, or his friend’s car, he was doing it for a customer. This leader of a bank was outside cleaning windshields for customers going through the drive-through as a way to show that his bank appreciates this person’s business.

My windshield was next. How cool is that? To me, that felt like an unfair advantage towards him and his bank in case I were ever to consider moving my business to another bank.

Imagine if he treats his team the same way. (I hope he does, but I don’t know him that well.) That would a double unfair advantage over his competitors. This is the kind of thing that makes me convinced that West Michigan can be the Silicon Valley of leadership. I think we have more of these kinds of leaders than any other region in the country. And I think we can do even better by calling these things out and building on them. That’s where you alumni come in!

So, what name could these examples come under? I don’t know, maybe servant leadership? Whatever you want to call it (knowing that a rose by any other name is still a rose), I believe it makes a big difference in the results of this person and her organization.

Now, it probably deserves repeating that a leader like this needs to be competent at her job, but if she is, and if she does these extra things, woe to those who need to compete against her without this same kind of spirit.

Do you agree with me that a leader who operates in this manner will have a big advantage? I know that I often fail at this, but my desire is to continue to grow in this way until I can’t do it any longer. For me, this is part of being a leader worth following.

I would love to hear some of your thoughts on the matter. Next week I’ll share some thoughts about why I believe so few do this and therefore fail to gain this unfair advantage.

Be a great leader this week!

Image by Bephep2010. Used under CC BY 2.0 license