Leadership Philosophy: Why “Me” Comes Last

If there’s a common thread that runs through the ideas and people that have informed my leadership philosophy, it’s the belief that the best leaders never put themselves first. And while I’m not one to regularly reference leadership books, I’d like to name three that helped me shape this view.

The first was “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, a best-seller I read early in my management career while at Eli Lilly and Company. The book discusses Level 5 leaders, defined as leaders with the characteristics of humility, will, ferocious resolve, and the tendency to give credit to others while assigning blame to themselves. “Good to Great” also reveals—from the result of empirical research, not just anecdotes or squishy platitudes—that companies led by Level 5 leaders significantly outperform their peers by more than 3 to 1 in their market. In fact, if you hear a lot of good things about a company but can’t name the CEO, there’s a good chance that she or he is a Level 5 leader.

Shortly after making a move to Amgen, I picked up the book “Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda,” by Sean Naylor. It details the true story about a large, complicated battle in Afghanistan in 2002 between American forces and al-Qaida. It’s also about courage, fortitude, and leadership lessons learned.

Only when you successfully execute on the needs of the mission and the team will you be a successful leader.

I then discovered that one of my co-workers at Amgen was Pete Blaber, the Delta Force special operations commander who played a key leadership role in Operation Anaconda. Over a cup of coffee, Pete shared the title of a book he’d written about his military experiences—a book that helped me establish the basis of my leadership philosophy: “The Mission, the Men, and Me.”

It’s a classic military leadership sentiment: There’s a mission, and at every point along your journey as a leader your goal is to keep the team squarely focused on successfully achieving it.

The second element is that you must do everything in your power as a leader to equip your team to be successful in accomplishing the mission, including providing the required resources, tools, skills, support, and training.

And what comes last, aptly, is the “me.” In other words, the leader puts herself or himself after the mission and the team. Because only when you successfully execute on the needs of the mission and the team will you be a successful leader.

They’re three powerful books, all offering great leadership guidance: be humble, give credit when it’s due, and put your mission and your team first. Only when we strive for these goals can we become great leaders.

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