It is my belief that a true leader will never ask his followers to do something he wouldn’t be willing to do himself. In the first Shrek movie, Lord Farquaad offers a fabulous reward to anyone who saves Princess Fiona from the fire breathing dragon. As he gives his speech, he says he recognizes that some of the men will lose their lives trying to rescue Fiona but states he is willing to take that risk. At some point in time, we have all had that boss who was willing to sacrifice us to make himself look good. Anyone can be placed in a position of leadership, but it is the action of leading that separates imposters from true leaders.
Shrek rescued Fiona from the dragon and created a team of misfits to save Far Far Away. He won the heart of Fiona and Donkey’s loyalty, and he became the hero of the entire land. It is important to identify who is leading your team. Are they loyal to you? Have you given them any reason to be loyal to you? Or are you more like Lord Farquaad, willing to lose others on your way up to personal glory? As an executive leader, we must evaluate ourselves as a leader. If you look at yourself through the eyes of your employees, do you like what you see? Or have you gotten so caught up in the daily operations of running the business that you forgot to take care of those around you? I’ll give you a personal example.
Many years ago, I was in a position of executive leadership as a Risk Management Administrator for a non-profit health care system. An unnecessary death occurred when a surgeon made a horrible mistake during a surgical procedure–the patient bled to death. It was my responsibility to make sure the family didn’t sue the hospital. I settled that case for a mere million dollars. I did my job, and I did it well. However, the sacrifice I made in that situation, in addition to the grieving family, was – me. I could no longer look at myself in the mirror without disgust. I couldn’t play enough racquetball to work out the revulsion. I couldn’t eat enough chocolate or drink enough vodka to remove the disappointment in myself. I could no longer look my staff in the eye. I didn’t deserve their respect or their loyalty. Relationships at the hospital became strained. My marriage took a beating. It took my sitting in a formal leadership forum to realize that doing my job well had cost me personally more than I could have ever imagined. I had compromised everything I valued—my self-respect and the respect of my staff—to do my job ‘well.’
I realized in that experience that executive leadership was more than just a title or position. I realized that leadership starts from within. Like Lord Farquaad in the Shrek story, I had been willing to sacrifice others to do what was ‘best’ for the kingdom (hospital). Fortunately, I did learn from that experience and realized true leadership means being more like Shrek. A leader must be able to lead her organization to success without compromising personal values or other people. In the process, she creates an organization of people that can feel good about whom they follow. Leadership is a big responsibility and should be valued by those in the position. Shrek may not look so good on the outside, but his organization followed him for what he was on the inside. Are you a Lord Farquaad or a Shrek? How will your kingdom (organization) describe you?
Penny Crow, MS, SHRM-SCP, RHIA, is a nationally recognized executive with progressive senior leadership experience in a wide range of healthcare organizations and within other industries. She is a Principal at Brittain Kalish Group, a management consulting firm, founded with the purpose of bringing well-matched resources together in a timely manner to obtain sustainable results while maximizing business success. With a Master of Science in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Penny is also an Executive Coach, helping executives think differently about themselves as leaders and the impact they have on their organizations. Her professional affiliations include the American Management Association, the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists and SHRM.