Two Ways Leaders Get to the Top

two ways leaders get to the topMost people who’ve known me for a long while know that I’ve been driven to excel in almost everything I do.  Note, I didn’t say that I actually excel in everything I do; I said I’ve been driven to excel in almost everything I do.  As a young boy I took to heart my father’s advice:  “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”

As I began the task of setting professional goals for myself, then creating specific plans to achieve those goals, I began to realize that my quest for goal achievement would inevitably intersect with others doing the same.  What then?

Two Ways Leaders Get to the Top

From my thirty-plus year study of leaders—good and bad—I’ve discovered there are multiple routes that can lead to personal leadership achievement.  The first approach may be hard for some to accept initially.  Frankly, it was for me.  While still young and naive, I found it hard to believe that individuals could actually rise through an organization and arrive at the top by intentionally, methodically climbing over others, holding others back and un-apologetically promoting themselves and their own personal agendas over others.  The very thought was distasteful to me on several levels.  Nevertheless, I found it to be true.  I came to know people in top leadership positions who prided themselves on their ability to “play the game” and to adroitly manipulate circumstances—and people—to achieve their personal goals with little or no regard for friend or foe.

Fortunately, I’ve also studied individuals who have taken a different route on their way to the top.  These thoughtful leaders never varied in their open commitment to support the efforts of their followers, encouraging, instructing, directing and praising these same followers at every turn.  The result?  Eventually, followers respond in such a way that propels their leaders to the top based on the team’s achievement of their collective goals.  What’s more, the leadership foundation is always firmer and more stable when the leader is lifted up by his or her followers than when he or she must continually strive to stay on top as others are praying for and plotting their ultimate fall.

As I describe in Chapter 7 of Leaders Ought to Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership, when followers realize their leader is focused on what can be personally gained from the work relationship, followers become reluctant to accept or aid his or her lead.

Yes, there are two distinct ways leaders get to the top — each with advantages and consequences. In your opinion, what’s the best leadership approach to the top? Feel free to share your insights here.

Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker
Author of Leaders Ought to Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership

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Phillip Van Hooser

Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE is committed to helping organizations transform their business outcomes by building engaged employee relationships. He is an award-winning keynote speaker and author on engaged leadership and communication. His most recent book is “Earning The Right To Be Heard," a primer for creating greater influence and opportunities. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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