As a leader within your organization, one of your most important roles is developing fellow and future leaders. One-on-one career planning conversations and performance evaluations are excellent, dedicated moments when you can focus on the leadership development of others. But they don't have to be the only time you consciously develop new leaders in your organization. There are some simple things you can do every day to support those you lead in stepping up their own leadership mindsets and behaviors.
Read on to learn about a proven practice for developing leaders in your everyday interactions, followed by two stories of how my consultancy clients applied this practice successfully. As you read the stories, ask yourself how you can apply this information to your own work of developing leaders each day.
Creating great leaders means asking people to lead vs. to do
Leaders go beyond just getting things done on their own. They make a difference in the bigger picture of company culture and employee behaviors.
Of course, you make requests of those you lead daily. In the regular course of doing business, you will ask people to do things such as participate in meetings, to have conversations to resolve a conflict or remove a roadblock, to develop ideas and work plans, and to simply get things done that need to be done.
Delegating tasks to your high performers or high potentials is very
different from asking your people to decide upon – and execute – strategic
actions. So when you are making a request of a developing leader, ask yourself:
"Am I asking them to do something or
am I asking them to lead?"
How to be a better leader: Coach for performance and growth
Consider that to act like a leader you must think like a leader. Demonstrate how to think like a leader by expanding the scope of the requests that you make of developing leaders. They need to go beyond the actions that need to be taken.
Remember: asking someone to complete a task is delegation. While delegation is an important skill for any manager, delegation is about getting things done as efficiently as possible. When your goal is to find and develop the leaders hiding in plain sight, you must shift your focus from efficiency to empowerment. Your people need to learn to be effective on their own.
One way to ask someone
to step up to lead, rather than to simply complete a delegated task, is to
request that they produce an outcome
rather than check a task off your to-do list.
In this way you are transferring ownership of a result – an essential competency for any leader – rather than simply adding something to their to-do list. You can begin with the task at hand and consider together how success would look beyond the completion of the task itself. Here's what this looks like in practice:
Leadership development example #1: Paul, Jack and transferring ownership
Paul asked Jack to put together a planning meeting for an important project. Initially Paul was going to run the meeting and was simply asking Jack to organize it. In thinking about how he could use this opportunity to develop Jack as a leader, Paul decided he would also ask Jack to run the meeting.
Since Jack didn't have much experience running a meeting, Paul knew he would have to guide him. In fact, Paul knew that it would take more work on his part than if he ran the meeting himself and only delegated the meeting coordination to Jack.
This was an opportunity for Paul to realize two of his goals – setting a project up for success and developing leaders on his team – so he decided to make the time investment in both.
Paul recognized that in order to command the respect of his peers, Jack needed to understand and convey the background and goals of the project. So, the first thing they did together was to get clear about the goals of the project itself, before they worked together to design the initial planning meeting.
Paul then used
the process of designing the planning meeting to show Jack how to design a
meeting based on outcomes, and then worked together with Jack to design an
agenda that would produce those outcomes. This enabled Paul to coach Jack in
coordinating and leading the meeting, and it was a great way to have Jack begin
to take more of a lead in the project they were about to start.
The investment Paul made in working with Jack in this way paid dividends for both he and Jack as the project developed. Jack discovered that the same skills he was learning in designing the meeting could be applied as he learned to manage the smaller projects already on his plate. In addition, Paul's public collaboration with Jack built his credibility among the rest of the team.
Jack was named the project manager. In the process of working together, Jack
stepped up and took the opportunity to earn Paul's trust and demonstrate that he was ready for a bigger role with more responsibilities.
And while Paul had made a significant time investment in the way he worked with Jack early on, it paid off for him personally as well. Soon after this success, Paul was able to transfer ownership of a new project to Jack, which ended up freeing up Paul's time and attention in the long run.
Simply said, by asking Jack to lead rather than do, Paul made an investment that paid dividends for both of them.
Growth opportunities help create leadership skills
Another way to ask someone to lead rather than just to do, is to ask them to create a growth opportunity for themselves in the course of the work they are doing.
Instead of asking someone to attend a meeting, try asking them to participate in a meeting to make a specific difference. Resist the urge to ask people to go to any meeting just so you or your team is represented.
Consider instead the purpose of their attendance and talk with them ahead of time about how they will know their participation was worthwhile for them, for you, or for others. Try going beyond the obvious need to contribute or gather information.
For example, could participating in this meeting be an opportunity for them to stretch themselves in some way so they can grow as a leader?
Leadership development example #2: Debbie and her missing voice
A participant in my leadership program tended to speak in meetings only when asked a direct question. When I asked her about this tendency, Debbie shared with me that she always assumed that others knew more than she did. When pressed further, she shared that she was concerned about coming across as arrogant because she had less experience than many on the team.
Given her commitment to grow as a developing leader, Debbie accepted a challenge for a one-month period that she would contribute in every meeting in some way. Contributing could be things such as asking a question, offering a perspective or providing technical expertise or insight. The goal was to speak up to make a contribution to the goal of the meeting.
However, she also needed to be mindful of the trap of focusing only on finding her opportunity to speak up, which would have put all of her attention on herself, instead of listening to the flow of the meeting conversation. Developing leaders often need guidance in shifting their focus from their own performance to the difference they want and need to make for others.
So, she decided to talk to a key person informally prior to each meeting to get connected to what they most needed to accomplish at the upcoming meeting. With that understanding, Debbie walked into each meeting feeling more connected and having a better idea of how she could personally contribute.
Finding her voice: Developing leaders need to practice speaking up
After the experiment was over, Debbie shared that she had a surprising breakthrough in her confidence. She realized that she had been sitting on the sidelines worrying about how she would be perceived, rather than focused on how she could genuinely contribute.
The next leadership development story is yours
Hopefully, these two stories are helpful examples of how working with those you lead to creating an opportunity for them to lead vs. to do creates a great practice in helping you coach others for leadership growth in your everyday interactions.
So, the next time you need to make a request of the developing leaders on your team, consider how you can elevate your request to ask them to lead rather than just take action. Continue to do this and you will master the practice of consciously developing leaders every day.