Engineering Justice, LLC

Nonprofit & Small Business Resources Blog

We offer expert advice and opinions, with a focus on nonprofits and small businesses, but relevant to organizations of all sizes.
Over 15 years of combined experience.

A Revolution in Leadership: Good Manager vs. Great Leader

A Revolution in Leadership

Many will tell you otherwise, but, as a leader, the truth is that you don’t usually have control over who will follow you. This is why, as we stated in our “Boss’ing from Within” post, you must prioritize and take the time to assess and appreciate those who choose to follow you. Become a good internal manager first. If you truly appreciate your closest followers, then the next step is clear: become a leader. Leadership is bigger than internal management. It is the most unwieldy and intangible of our three methodological concepts, which is why we don’t start with it or end with it, and it’s the concept that underpins our entire methodological framework.

That said, the goal of leadership is to be bigger than your brand and the products you sell. It extends far beyond the confines of your organization. It may sound cliché, but it is how you create magic. It allows you to be in more than one place at a time. It affords you the ability to see all corners of an organization scaled to its apex. In sum, it equates to your legacy. There are tactics, techniques and steps one can take to develop strong leadership skills. But, ultimately, it’s deeply philosophical. Thus, we will not attempt to cover all of this in one article. Instead we will break up our understanding of leadership into parts, attempting to make it more digestible. So, keep an eye out for future articles on this subject matter.

To start, and most importantly, leadership is about people. You cannot lead if you do not have people to lead. And, as we’ve discussed, you must prioritize those who keep your organization running on a daily basis. Part of this prioritization is building strong relationships with your employees. As Simon Sinek has explained, “Treat your employees like family.” This is one of the main reasons we call Engineering Justice a family business. We are not only building this business for the Collins legacy, but also to channel the greater meaning of being a family business. In a family business, family is defined as not only the nuclear family, but as an extension to those who work for you and the people they care for.

This may be an unpopular idea, but we are guided by our values. We are actively fighting against the antiquated corporate notion that you must be cut throat and ruthlessly competitive to succeed. Like in family and life, success is about growth and development. Therefore, the goal of developing employees is not only to maintain continuity and save on the cost of hiring. These are nice dividends. But, the most important outcome is to develop employees who become the best version of themselves under your watch. This will maximize your employee’s potential, which will maximize their productivity. All in all, despite what they tell you, this is a classic example of how leading with the right values actually has bottom line benefits.

When taking this approach, you may be the victim of your own success. Some of the employees you’ve most invested in will be inclined to eventually walk away, to become successful on their own. Don’t worry though: if you’ve cultivated strong and trusting relationships, like a proud parent, your relationships with employees who have left can benefit you in a multitude of ways in the future.

To boil this all down, the foundation of building relationships is to first hear your employees’ stories. When you hear their stories, you gather the information needed to take action, including the following primary data points:

  • Their motivations (we will cover motivation in a following post).

  • Their trust. This is reciprocal: if you have their trust, you can better trust them. Trust means that they know you have their back; you will be there when they need you most. Once you have gained their trust, you have a responsibility to maintain it.

From here, it is easy to understand that leadership cannot be about the use of punitive measures. Like family, when they trust you and vice versa, it is easier to be forgiving. This gives your employees chances to improve and grow. Through this process, you are also modeling the behavior needed to create a strong team, so this strong relationship-building can also happen between team members.

Historically, organizational leaders have assumed that productivity comes from results. The idea is that if you are at the top of the competitive hierarchy, you have to be cut-throat, because there are ample amounts of eager replacements waiting at your door-step. Small businesses and nonprofits leaders could never operate from this assumption. Nevertheless, many have suffered from the trickle-down effect of emulating this mentality. Moreover, we argue that science and metrics are showing something much different, even for large corporations. We are witnessing the end results of the grand economic experiment that has been capitalism. Especially in this day in age, in an expanding gig economy with wealth going to the hands of the few, and workers becoming more and more devalued, we are seeing the failing ugliness of the arrogant assumptions we made about business success. And, we are realizing that kindness and empathy are what will ultimately allow people (first) and businesses (second), to win.

Engineering Justice, LLC