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It’s not all about you:  why good leaders are selfless

This is a guest post by Sandra Upeslacis who is the Manager, Talent Retention and Acquisition at NATIONAL Public Relations, past articles by Sandra are here.

Some of us aspire to be leaders. Many who get within close range of leading get cold feet, or crumble under the weight of our own ego.  Effectual leadership is not about being good at telling others what to do.  In fact, it’s the opposite.

My first encounter with WestJet Airlines a few years back was a telling example of leadership in action.  Stepping into a WestJet plane from the loading platform, I was greeted by Clive Beddoe, founder and then chairman, who happened to be flying from Toronto to Ottawa as I was.  Mr. Beddoe was in a jovial mood, shaking hands with the passengers, helping them to their seats, and telling the crew with a wry smile that the plane was full of very important people.  Apart from Mr. Beddoe and a few municipal politicians, the vast majority of passengers were ordinary people like me. However, Mr. Beddoe made everyone feel extraordinary, and that is one of the reasons why he’s an effective leader.  He rolled up his sleeves, got to work at whatever needed to be done, and led by example.

On that flight to Ottawa, I observed firsthand that being a good leader requires a degree of selflessness many among us may not be willing to embrace.  It would have been easy for the airline chairman to slip into his seat unnoticed during the final boarding call and enjoy his early morning coffee in near-anonymity. He could have used the 50-minute flight to collect his thoughts and attend to the files on his laptop.  But what would that convey to the WestJet employees working on the plane, or the customers waiting to be served?

Mr. Beddoe’s behaviour speaks to WestJet’s non-hierarchical corporate culture, his devotion to the company and willingness to lead.  Good leaders do not sit around watching other people do their bidding.  They are right in the thick of the action, sharing ideas, working on complex problems, finding solutions together with everyone else and supporting those around them to ensure the job gets done and that, in the end, the best possible result has been achieved.

Arriving in Ottawa, Mr. Beddoe was the first to get up and out of his seat, ready to thank his customers for flying WestJet.  His firm handshake as I readied to exit the plane reinforced to me that I would like to fly WestJet again in the future.

Mr. Beddoe is a great salesman.  But beyond that, he was thinking about his company that morning and how his behaviour was perceived by everyone around him.  Good leaders do not have the luxury of hanging back to see what happens.  They need to be selfless and on the ball when anticipating and acting on what is best for their organization, every minute of every day.

Some people think that everyone has the potential to be a leader.  It may be true, but in order to lead, the best possible training is to be great at what you’re doing in your current job or volunteer pursuits right now.  Learning to work hard at whatever is required, reaching out to other people and helping them, however humble or thankless the task, are among the markings of a true leader.

Sandra Upeslacis is the Manager of Talent Retention and Acquisition at NATIONAL Public Relations, Canada’s largest public relations firm with more than 325 employees in nine offices across Canada, in London and New York. . Email, [email protected]