Several years ago, Tim Tassopoulos and I had the opportunity to have breakfast with Stephen Covey. When I find myself with thought-leaders, regardless of their field, I always want to ask great questions. On this occasion, Tim beat me to it. He asked Dr. Covey, “How do you create leaders at every level in an organization?”
I love that question! Clearly, Stephen could have answered by citing a comprehensive competency model, or a unified leadership point-of-view, or action learning, or he certainly could have said, “ Teach every leader The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” But, he said none of those things, he said “Give people real responsibility.”
Covey knew what many of you have discovered…
Leaders learn most of what we know about leadership from actually leading.
When we lead, at least two good things happen:
Our competence increases. Leadership is a skill, or more accurately, a set of skills. Skills are developed over time with practice. When we lead, it accelerates our learning curve.
Our confidence increases. Nothing drives confidence more than success. As we learn to lead we’ll enjoy more success. Competence builds success and confidence.
So why are we often reluctant to give emerging leaders the chance to lead?
#1 We’re not confident in our own leadership. We may feel threatened by emerging leaders. The truth is the best leaders are always trying to surround themselves with leaders better than themselves.
#2 We’ve not invested enough in emerging leaders to get them ready to lead. Often our leadership bench is empty. Or, the men and women on the bench are not up to the task at hand. One of our core responsibilities is to prepare the next generation of leaders. If we’ve not been diligent, there may be no one in the wings.
#3 We believe it will be faster if we do it ourselves. This is a classic leadership blunder. The reason so many leaders fall prey to this is it’s true! It would be faster to do many of the tasks required of leadership ourselves. The problem with this approach is two-fold: one, we have finite capacity – we can’t do EVERYTHING ourselves. Second, it is shortsighted. It may be faster today, but tomorrow, the lack of additional, qualified leaders could be the death of our organization.
Leaders give people opportunity and responsibility. We get to decide. It may be uncomfortable at times - we may not be 100% sure someone is ready. If we don’t give people real responsibility they’ll never be ready. I’m glad I was given the chance to lead. I’m guessing you’re glad someone gave you the baton too - ready or not.[GLS_Shield]
What real responsibility can you give an emerging leader?