Last week, I was working on a leadership program for small business owners and felt a familiar adrenaline rush.  I always seem to get it when I think about the possibilities resulting from great leadership.  At the same time, I was working on some personal growth and development and came across a powerful idea.  The idea did not have a leadership leaning on its surface yet seemed so tightly connected to my leadership work that I need to share it with you.  I call it “Leading like an Irishman”! 

My Irish Heritage 

Earlier this year, I was granted Irish citizenship, now a dual citizen of the U.S and Ireland.  It’s a bit of a long story, but the highlights include a trip to my paternal grandparents’ birthplaces in Ireland and an unexpected interaction with a second cousin, whom I had no idea existed.  Ever since, I have tried to advance my knowledge of Irish life and heritage.  I find it all very fascinating and hope to spend more time in Ireland one day. 

Going Deeper – New Learnings 

Last week, I was working my way through a Great Courses program entitled The Celtic World offered by Professor Jennifer Paxton of The Catholic University of America.  In one session, Dr. Paxton traces Celtic language development.  The game-changing idea:  Celtic language does not include the verb “to have”.  Linguistically, Celtic people could not express possession.  The closest expression would be to use the verb “to be” with a preposition.  Instead of “Chip has chickens”, the expression would be “The chickens are with Chip”, or “The chickens are at Chip”.   

What We Say and What We Think 

Language and thought are deeply intertwined.  If there is not a word for it, how can you possibly think it?  Imagine a worldview in which an individual has no concept of control or dominance, simply working in harmony with everything presented to him or her.  It reminded me of some reading I had done earlier this year on the influence of the Irish on civilization.  The author proposed that Ireland was the only Christian nation converted without bloodshed.  I need to do some more research on that point.  Regardless of what you think about St. Patrick driving snakes out of Ireland, it is a fact that St. Patrick, in his youth British slave to Irish landholders, ultimately eradicated slavery from Ireland without bloodshed.  I would take that over snakes any day. 

Leading like an Irishman means gaining profound influence with no sense of control or possession.  Here are four big leadership dynamics that arise from leading like an Irishman.  Try them and see what happens for you as a leader. 

Control Over People or Empowerment of People 

The greatest gains you will make as a leader will come from a shift from subordination to empowerment and growth of other leaders.  That shift requires extraordinary trust and humility.  It is not what you have under your control, but what has been presented to you and how you maximize the potential of it – even when the people you are developing may become better than you.  A great resource for this mindset shift is John Maxwell’s The Five Levels of Leadership.  The book establishes control as the most basic form of leadership and one you should exit quickly.  

Ownership Versus Investment  

Ownership does not presume ongoing investment.  Some people just like buying things and having them.  Great leaders understand that one of their most basic responsibilities is to add value to those around them, and each person in a different way.  Simple but tough question:  what do you have to offer?  What kind of investment have you made in yourself to be able to add value to others consistently?  Good leadership is a never-ending process of expansion that begins with recognizing the inherent worth and potential of others.    

Gratitude or Expectation 

Ownership and possession create a sense of personal returns.  If it is mine, shouldn’t it be working for me?  Followers know that is exhausting to spend your life trying to make other people look good.   

The great leaders I have known have a firm sense of where they are going and are glad to welcome others on the journey.  The primary expectation is that all travelers will arrive at the destination and celebrate together when they arrive.  They are grateful for the talents and gifts that have been brought to them to complete the journey.   

Gratitude does not diminish a strong work ethic.  Group commitment to a common outcome only intensifies effort. Everyone wants to accomplish the objective and they understand how their individual gifts and talents are depended upon by the group.  Is it really that hard to say thank you?   

Recognition and Reward 

Let’s leave the long-running debate about swollen executive pay out of the discussion.  This one for me is closely related to the expectation discussion above, but a bit more tangible.  I simply do not believe that everyone can be or should be paid the same in an organization, but I do believe that all team members must be paid fairly for their efforts.  I also believe that when the team wins every single team member should win personally at some level.  How are your compensation plans designed?   

In many ways, I believe that money is the easy part.  I am constantly amazed at the significance of non-monetary compensation in people’s lives.  Do you possess enough humility as a leader to say, “We would not be where we are without the tremendous effort you have made.”?  Some leaders would rather pay the money and set next year’s goals than humble themselves in this way. 

You can achieve tremendous leadership results if you let go of possessing power and controlling people.  Be with them in the most influential way possible.  Start leading like an Irishman!