Recently, on Facebook, there was a picture of a large pack of wolves traveling in deep snow. The caption goes on to tell the story of the pack’s hierarchy. The caption asserts that the front of the pack is led by the older, sicker wolves so they won’t be left behind, while the alpha wolf is in the very rear, assuring no one is lost. In reality, the lead wolf is actually the strongest, so that a path can be made in the snow.

Leaders do the same thing. They blaze trails. However, there is a principle in the caption that, while not true of wolves in the real world, can be seen in every great leader.

Serving those you lead.

– Abraham Lincoln is considered a great leader not because he was the smartest, richest or most successful but because he valued people. (he lost 5 elections before becoming president and was rejected as a Vice Presidential candidate)

– George Washington is considered a great leader because as a general, he was known to have fought alongside his men instead of watching from behind.

– Martin Luther King Jr. is considered a great leader because he served the needs of those he led. He endured jail time for them, threats and eventually his death.

– Winston Churchill literally saved the world by convincing the leaders in his parliament and later the United States to enter the war. He also was loved by those who followed him closely because he served their needs, not his own.

People follow leaders for several reasons. Because they’re the boss. Because the goal is worthwhile. Because they are paid to be leaders. Because they are afraid of what would happen if they did not. But people follow great leaders because they believe in them. They trust that leader. They know their leader cares for them. Great leaders serve those they lead.

When people believe a leader cares about them, they will go farther for them. They will “co-own” the mission of their organization. They will work harder, think innovatively and even protect the organization. They buy in and are sold out for the cause. They are more productive. This can be true even in complex organizational structures. When people like their job, they trust and follow their leader. When they hate their job, they tend to also hate their boss. See the difference? This is important. It’s crucial to your organization, office, or department. If you lead people, here are some ways you can serve them and gain their trust, belief and buy-in.

Three Ways to Serve While Leading:

– Know them and their lives.
It’s a small thing to know someone. Not just their name but who they are, what’s important to them and what’s going on in their lives. It goes a long way. Simply ask and lean in and listen.

– Care for their environment.
As a leader over people, you have some ability to shape their environment. Is it comfortable? Can they be themselves? Do they feel valued by you? Do they have fun? Create opportunities to engage them and give them the freedom they need to truly feel like they are where they need to be.

– Help them with their work.
I don’t mean do their work. Ask them simply, “how can I help?” They may need something from you that they haven’t shared. They might have an issue with another department they can’t figure out. They may need equipment that isn’t available. You may not be able to solve every problem or help in every instance, but your willingness to help and your actual help, makes a difference to them.

All these things communicate that you care. However, these aren’t the only ways you can serve the people you lead. But when you do small things to communicate that your people are important to you, your priorities become important to them. They will want to work harder for you and your people will be better for it. Your organization will be better for it. You will be better for it.

Eric Joppa for the Align Team