This is a focus often missing in the business world. If you Google any derivative of “raising up leaders,” you will discover the first several pages of search results are from faithbased organizations, not business publications. If business rises and falls on the shoulders of its leaders, shouldn’t the business world be just as concerned about developing future leaders?
In this series, I take a look at the obstacles to raising up leaders, and how we can overcome them. We’ll also focus on some practical ways to coach and inspire future leaders.
Why We Don’t Focus on Raising Up Future Leaders
1. It takes too much time and energy. This is both a truth and a short-sighted focus. Raising up a leader does take time and energy. At first, coaching a leader to do what you do requires more time investment than merely continuing to lead or doing a task yourself. However, when that leader is developed, you have someone capable of taking a significant amount of work and responsibility off your shoulders. The long-term payoff of leadership development is much more beneficial than any short-term pain.
2. Fear. This fear comes in two forms. First, we fear the leaders-intraining may fail and leave a wake of catastrophe behind them. However, if leadership development is done with forethought and conducted systematically, checks and balances will be in place to help mitigate the most severe issues the young leader might cause.
A second level of fear is turf protection. We might not possess the self-confidence to have other strong leaders beside us. We worry that if someone else rises, we might decline in importance or no longer be viewed as vital to the organization. This is a false fear. Leaders who can raise up other leaders will always be in demand and valued in the business world because we can never have enough healthy leaders emerging.
3. Not enough vision is being extended toward the future. Great leaders see beyond their lifetime in regard to the future of a business or organization. They seek out longterm organizational success and realize others must take their place someday.
Short-sighted leaders think, “What’s in this for me? What is expedient to do now to make me look good?” Long-term leaders adopt Stephen Covey’s philosophy of beginning with the end in mind.
How is Leadership Imparted?
Great leaders realize leadership is both caught and taught. There is an incarnational quality to leadership that can’t be learned through mere coursework. The future leader needs to see how you operate in the trenches. They need to directly observe how you handle certain situations. They need to be given time with you to debrief about their perceptions of what they see you do. Maybe they thought you handled a situation a certain way because of XYZ when it was really QRS. Having a dialogue with them about these direct observations is invaluable.
Practical Ways to Begin to Impart Leadership
1. Share experiences. Today’s emerging leaders learn well through story. They are open to learning from a mature leader’s successes and failures. They enjoy hearing stories about overcoming obstacles, facing challenges and learning honest accounts of failure. Millennials typically seek out personal experience. They will still want the chance to gain their own experience, but they are willing to glean from your wisdom. This is especially true if they feel you are making a concerted effort to invest in them.
2. Provide real opportunities. This is where our fears can be an obstacle to developing leaders. Many leaders are afraid to hand off real responsibility to leaders half their age. This is understandable because most of us made some significant mistakes as a young leader. At the same time, that’s how we learned.
Younger leaders seek real authority. These developing future leaders will see quickly through any attempt to placate them with meaningless tasks giving them false authority. You must figure out some significant “slices of the pie” to delegate, and then gradually increase their opportunities to include more responsibility as they prove reliable. After all, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” is a wise principle.
Observe how these developing leaders handle the responsibility given to them while providing them room to lead. Is there some risk involved? Yes, but by carefully selecting what projects are delegated, the implications of the growth of a leader for the benefit of the organization outweigh the potential drawbacks.
3. Allow for failure. You aren’t the perfect leader, even if you are well into the twilight of your career. Long-term experience tends to teach us how to react and how to make corrections when we do make a mistake. Often, younger leaders do not yet possess this aptitude. As a result, their mistakes can appear more glaring to a mature leader.
Be patient. Reward a noble attempt that results in failure more than you reward a playing-it-safe minimal attempt that seeks to mitigate all risks. No influential leader has ever had risk mitigation as a compelling vision. An atmosphere that embraces failure as a part of the growth process invites future leaders to take chances, to risk failure and to explore creative solutions.
Stay Tuned In
Let us not shy away from our jobs as leaders. It is not to lead a group of knaves but to create knights and future heroes to take the reins and lead the organization to greatness. This is your charge and calling.