In leadership one principle stands above all: You need your people more than they need you. Another way of saying this is that you get paid for what your people do, not for what you do.

If you only internalize one lesson about leadership, make this the one. A basic understanding that you need your people more than they need you is the single most important leadership lesson you will ever learn. In our leadership seminars, we spend more time on this principle than any other concept. Why? Because until you get this—and I mean really make this principle part of your heart and soul—you cannot be a great leader. No exceptions.

I ran head on into this principle as a young manager. I’d just been promoted to district manager in charge of the company’s Augusta, Georgia, location. On my team were an assistant manager and five route service drivers. Our route service drivers did just that; they drove delivery trucks around the area and delivered our products and services to customers. Prior to my promotion, the regional office had conducted a sales contest, the reward for which was a cruise to the Bahamas for all qualifiers. All of the men on my team qualified for the trip except my assistant manager.

For some reason the management team had made no arrangements to cover the routes while the route drivers were on the trip. So during my first week in charge, five members of my team went to the Bahamas, and for three days my assistant manager and I tried to fill those shoes. It still stands today as the worst experience of my entire career. It was beyond miserable. Apart from its being impossible for two people to run five routes, we had no relationships with the customers, we didn’t understand the geography, and we were slow because we didn’t know how to do the job.

When our tanned and rested route drivers returned, I was ready to hug them. I had a new and deep appreciation of the role they played in our organization and was humbled to realize that, even though I had MANAGER on my business card, I was unable to do their job proficiently. There was no doubt in my mind that I needed them far more than they needed me.

Who Is More Important: You or Your People?

Consider this. It is Monday morning. You get to the office early, ready to start the day. As soon as you sit down at your desk, the phone rings. Mary calls in to say she is going to be out sick today. A few minutes later Ralph calls to remind you he will be on vacation. Then Ernie calls to say a relative died and he needs to fly to Cleveland to go to the funeral. One after another the calls come in, until suddenly you find yourself alone in the office; no one is coming in today. How would you fare?

We start each People Follow You leadership seminar with this scenario. Most managers when faced with this question answer that they would probably make it through Monday okay. So we follow that up with Tuesday—you show up but no one else does. How about Wednesday and Thursday? What if you came in each morning but the people who worked for you did not. How would you be doing by Friday?

You know the answer and so do I. Your business would be in shambles, and you would be miserable. If my route drivers had been gone one more day, I would have been put in a straightjacket and rushed to the nearest mental institution.

But what if on Monday morning all of your people showed up to work and you didn’t? Would things get done? Absolutely. The fact is, even if you went on a two-week vacation, and all of your people showed up each day, things would likely be just fine. The work would get done.

One of the core traits of ineffective leaders and bad bosses is that they believe that they get paid for the things they do. These bosses range from the arrogantly self-centered to workaholics to micromanagers. These bosses believe, at the core, that they are more important, smarter, and more competent than the people working for them.

Author's Bio: 

Jeb Blount is a leading expert on leadership and human behavior. He helps companies, teams, and individuals transform their organizations and accelerate performance through intense focus on interpersonal relationships. He is the author of five books including People Follow You: The Real Secret to what Matters Most in Leadership, People Buy You: The Real Secret to what Matters Most in Business, Sales Guy’s 7 Rules for Outselling the Recession, Business Expert’s Guide to Small Business Success and Power Principles. To learn more call 706-664-0810 x102 or email