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The Selfless Leader

Source | NewCo Shift : By Yan Lhert

Run a company or manage a team? It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you have people working for you. You have the final say, after all. But, for you and your company to succeed, your mindset should be the opposite: as a leader, you are working for your employees, and not the other way around.

Your primary job is to ensure that your employees can do their best work. This requires building an environment in which they can thrive, taking the time to communicate, and being mindful of their needs and how they want to work. While you can take lessons from your own experiences and preferences, it’s important to put others first. Don’t assume that everyone is like you and wants the same things. In my experience as a startup founder and team leader, I’ve learned these lessons first hand. Here are a few key insights:

Be empathetic

Great leadership is built on a bedrock of deep empathy. The age-old adage of “lead by example” is all about empathy: When a leader does the work himself, they are surely on the same page as their teammates.

The best leaders are almost telepathic. They communicate with their teammates with a bandwidth that is exponentially more effective than what simple language can convey. This skill is not supernatural to develop, although some are certainly naturally much better at this than others. Mind reading might seem like a dark art, but the fundamentals are easy to practice and master. Spend your entire day thinking from the perspective of others. Get inside their head and think about what’s motivating them, and what’s holding them back. Live in their shoes as much as possible. Spend most of your conversations with people talking about them, and as little time as possible talking about yourself. It can be really hard, but with practice it will become natural.

I recommend all startup founders read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. There is a reason this is one of Y Combinator’s short list of four books recommended to founders. I have re-read this book about eight times, because I find it so useful for reminding myself to flip my view of social interaction on its head, and view everything from another person’s perspective. Once you’ve mastered empathy, all you need to do is add a little drive, direction, and vision, and a great leader is born. You’ll be able to get the most out of your team once you spend most of your day thinking about what they need instead of what you want. Without this kind of perspective, you simply cannot succeed as a leader.

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