In our modern world, the word leader is often synonymous to boss or hero. We desire to be the person who knows the most, sees the most, has the most, carries the most, makes the most. We’re surrounded with role models that reinforce the goal: from The Wolf of Wall Street to Captain America, we see heroes that are the strongest, the smartest, the fastest, and the bravest; and we are convinced that if we can be any or all of those things, then the followers will come.
Society awards competence and mastery, driving the development of a system where hard skills are rewarded and soft skills are not considered valuable until the lack of them directly impacts us. This is not to say that hard skills are not valuable; they most certainly are. Unfortunately, an unbalanced focus on one being more important than the other has resulted in leaders “arriving” at their goal only to realize they don’t know how to do the new job.
This is why leadership is tricky. We exist in systems that reinforce that we should know all the answers and do everything ourselves... until we arrive at a level where that is no longer possible, much to our surprise and frustration.
I’m currently working with a fantastic leader whose goal this year is to do one thing: move away from leading work and learn how to lead people. This may be the most appropriate way I have heard somebody describe true leadership recently. Too often as leaders we focus on getting the work done rather than developing people to do the work. The catch here is that one day, there will be too much work and not enough you. As a team leader, your priority should no longer be to do all the work. Your top priority should be making capacity to develop and empower the people that do it.
Leadership is not knowing the answers and handing them out to your employees like candy; leadership is allowing people to make mistakes and helping them discover the answers on their own. It’s not jumping in and fixing the numbers when a report has been messed up; it’s allowing employees to take ownership, even when there are consequences. It’s not prioritizing results; it’s prioritizing people – because they will be the ones who bring results.
We are taught to think of leaders as people who swoop in to save the day. I am challenging you to consider otherwise: that leaders are people who teach and encourage others so that they may never need to.