Leadership means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For some, it’s power. For others, it’s the public platform. Still, others believe that leadership is about sitting at the head of the table and making all the decisions. None of those descriptions are completely accurate.
Leadership is about investing in and developing people over time. That’s it. If you have the best ideas, give the best speeches, make all the right strategic moves, but fail to place the right people around you and develop them over time, you will limit your impact and influence.
It’s easy to spot these leaders. You can watch how they spend their time. You can observe how they handle themselves in meetings. And you can learn from their capacity to see and pull things out of others that they didn’t even know was possible. When I think back on the leaders I have admired the most over the years, they all have one characteristic in common. They helped me grow and develop as a leader.
I am a better leader today because someone else made it a priority to help me grow.
I’ve worked hard to shape my leadership style around this characteristic, too. It’s why mentorship is at the heart of my approach. I spend time with students, the Board, my leadership team because I want them to be better, stronger, and more confident in their work. I believe you have been called to do something unique and specific in the world, and I want you to have the courage, boldness, and confidence to step toward that every day.
But something happened along the way that surprised me. I can’t put my finger on it, but there was a moment when my leadership shifted from being about what I could achieve and accomplish personally to growing the people around me. Everyone starts at the former. Those who continue to rise in influence and position eventually evolve into the later.
When I made that shift, I thought I was leaving my leadership development behind. I thought that when I decided to spend more time focusing on developing others that it would result in less time for me to develop myself. But I was wrong.
Leadership is not a zero-sum game.
The more I develop others, the more I continued to develop myself. It seems counterintuitive. But it’s the truth.
As I focused on others, …
· I learned that I had to articulate what was in my head. There is a lot of clarity that comes when your ideas cross over your lips. It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts. But to speak into someone’s life means you must harness those ideas into something measurable and actionable.
· I had to revisit past experiences and what I had learned. [The stories you and I tell shape how we interpret and experience the world. Your biggest mistakes and regrets not only teach you something but become the ingredients for another’s inspiration.
· I needed to reflect on how to help someone else overcome an obstacle or resolve a challenge. One mentor told me that leading others is like herding cats. I think he was right. Developing others is a jigsaw puzzle that never ends, but it’s also a never-ending source of learning about yourself.
Everyone can invest in and grow others.
It doesn’t matter what position you hold or the size of your organization. You are a leader even if you are an organization of one because there is someone within your sphere of influence who can benefit from your time, attention, and wisdom. The key is don’t wait until you are at the top. The longer you wait to start growing others, the longer it will take for you to get to the top.
You don’t need a position to start growing others around you. You can do that today. Here are eight practical suggestions to get you started:
· Help someone you know take a big outcome and turn it into bite-sized goals.
· Listen to someone talk through their frustrations.
· Read a relevant book along with someone who is trying to learn a new skill or develop a new habit or discipline.
· Attend a lunch and learn with someone around a timely topic.
· Be an objective voice for someone facing a big decision.
· Design a leadership development plan for those who directly report to you.
· Get out of the office and dream with a peer, direct report, partner, or vendor about what could be and what would have to happen to make it true.
· Invest in a leadership training program and take someone with you through the process.
The way you can help others grow are endless.
The challenge is will you make it enough of a priority that you begin to shape your goals, calendar, and focus on growing others. Only you can answer that. And I suspect you have aspirations of being this type of leader but are quietly fearful of the time commitment.
I get it. You’re busy. How will you find time to develop others in the midst of all the meetings, decisions, strategy building, etc.? The more important question is: how will you ever break through the barriers holding you back if you don’t make growing others a priority?
The truth is you will always find time to do the things that matter the most. If there is one thing I wish I had done sooner in my leadership journey, it would be to start growing others around me. I have personally benefited from that discipline in my leadership, and I believe you will, too.
CHALLENGE: Identify one person you can help grow right now. Take out a sheet of paper. Write their name at the top. List out as many ways as you think you can help them. Then call, text, or email them to find a time for coffee or lunch in the next seven days. Share with them how you can help them grow, and see how they respond