Many of you likely know that in addition to teaching, running a graduate program, and consulting, I am passionate about coaching. Executive coaching. Transition coaching. Career Coaching. (Even athletic coaching…but that’s another story.)
While the settings and goals between these types of coaching may differ, a focus in each is always on leadership…how to identify the path one has already taken as a leader (more challenging for most than you might imagine) and how to further one’s development as a good leader. It can be general leadership development, but most often is targeted to a particular career goal or specific leadership challenge in a current assignment.
When asked, most people can talk at length about what they’ve done to become stronger leaders. They talk about their management approach. They describe the leadership development courses they’ve attended, and the books they’ve read. Most times these days, they describe themselves as “true servant leaders,” dedicated to taking care of their followers (a description that is often less bounded by actual evidence than the belief that they should be servant leaders).
But when asked for a few stories about how they have actively developed the leadership qualities of those they lead, a staccato hesitancy pervades the conversation. Most will then launch into a description of those activities they provide their followers, a list that pretty much mirrors that which they used to describe their own leadership development. A leadership training course here. Books read there. Theories and models published in the latest Harvard Business Review. Oh, yes, and lots of language around empowerment!
The point here is not that most people are poor leaders. They are not! In fact, the vast majority of leadership I coach, I would characterize as strong leaders. They have high emotional intelligence (measured). They understand and value their people (measured). They are effective managers and strategists (measured). They simply find it harder to articulate the specific things they do to develop their followers.
While not a coaching client, my daughter is burgeoning leader. She may not yet fully understand the extent to which she effectively influences those around her, and her vision of leadership may be primarily as a manager, a delegator, and a decision maker. She’s lead numerous 5-day backpacking trips each of the past several summers up and around the Porcupine Mountains State Park along the Lake Superior shoreline in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. As a 19-year-old, she was solely responsible for the safety of younger campers trekking through some of the most rugged mountains between the Appalachians and the Rockies. She determined the route, oversaw the pack-out of vital food and gear, was challenged with ensuring the hydration of the group when water sources grew scarce. She even had to problem-solve when their planned extraction fell through on one trip. Along the way, she’s certainly grown stronger and more confident in her own leadership abilities.
But in a recent conversation, she too found it a bit challenging to speak to the growth of leaders among the campers on her trips. Because this is a challenge to anyone who views leadership as authority. And she’s a strong leader, growing stronger everyday.
You see, leadership isn’t simply about having the responsibility for making decisions. That’s part of leadership. It’s not about delegating and managing workflow. That’s a part of it. It’s not even about influencing others toward a directed purpose or vision. And that’s an important part of leadership.
No, the real value in leadership is in developing the potential in others to be good people and good leaders (and yes, good followers, too). The most important role a leader can have is to create a sense of confidence and awe in followers, not of the leader, but in themselves. When we do that, we have sown the seeds of leadership in those under our wing. We have begun to ripen the capacity for confidence and self-efficacy that allows for the development of humble, thoughtful, and transformational leaders.
And most importantly, when we as leaders focus on developing and nurturing the core leadership qualities of those looking to us as leaders, we begin to teach through modeling that leadership isn’t about ourselves and our capabilities. Leadership is about the others and THEIR capabilities.
Tom Peters summed this idea up with perfection here. It’s so simple, yet in action it is often one of the biggest challenges for emerging leaders. Enacting this principle of leadership takes faith…Faith in one’s own ability to both lead and follow. It takes trust…Trust that you can reduce you’re own need to influence if so doing enhances others’ experiences. And it takes confidence…Confidence that it’s the right thing to do.
So, when you look back on your experiences and evaluate yourself as a leader, ask one simple question.
“What am I doing to grow more leaders?”
For in doing so, you’ll become a far stronger leader yourself, but more important…You’ll become a far stronger leader for others. And that’s the whole point.