Leadership Mistakes

Leadership Tips — Shine a Light on Your People

Tom O\’Dea asked:


Recently I was reading (re-reading, actually) John Maxwell’s book “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader”.  It’s a great collection of easy to read, short chapters that I highly recommend. 

One of the qualities that got me to thinking was generosity.  Maxwell makes his point by saying that “your candle loses nothing when it lights another”.  

If You Don’t Develop People 

He takes the discussion in a number of different directions, but it got me to thinking about people in leadership roles who don’t develop the people who work for them.  What a huge mistake!  Think about what happens when you fail to develop your people:

You’re stuck.  If you don’t have a successor ready to take your place, how can you move up?  The only way out of your current job will be to resign.  And if you do that, you’ll leave your current employer in a bind.  Not a great way to build your references. 

Your people are stuck.  They aren’t growing, so they aren’t going anywhere.  Do you think people are going to want to work for you if that’s your reputation?   Over time, you’re going to have a weak team; the best are going to avoid you. 



It’s a death spiral, really.  You can’t go anywhere, your team is steadily declining in skill, not to mention motivation.  Your performance results can only go in one direction — the wrong one. 

It’s easy to make developing people a priority in your leadership agenda.  Plus, the more you develop people the less you feel the need to carry everyone’s load on your shoulders.  So why is it that some leaders miss the boat on this one? 

The only reasons that make any sense are a combination of lack of trust in their people, and insecurity in themselves.  Developing people does require giving them the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities, and that means you can’t control everything they do.  If you’ve got people you can’t trust, and you don’t do something to change that, your leadership should be called into question. 

Do The Right Thing 

Enough on the negative side — you’re a capable leader, you’ve hired good people, and you’re secure enough to trust them.  How do you help them grow?

Be a teacher.  Think about what you have learned in your career.  Then think about each individual who reports to you directly.  What have you learned that John or Susan have not?  Work with them and share what you know.  If you’re a really good teacher, they won’t even notice what you’re doing.  They’ll just get it! 

Be a coach.  It’s similar to teaching, but not quite the same.  Be an active observer of what your people are doing — with employees, with clients, with partners.  Compliment them on their strengths, publicly when you get the chance.  In private, talk to them about areas in which they can improve.  Don’t tie the improvement discussions to anything like performance appraisals.  Make the private discussions as safe and non-threatening as possible.  Make sure people understand your intent is to help, not to criticize. 

Provide leadership training.  While I’m a huge advocate of having every leader be a teacher, it’s important that your people be exposed to other influences as well.  Whether you bring in some outsiders, or send three people off to two weeks of executive development each year, you want to have a reputation for giving people every opportunity to learn and grow. 

Give people credit.  If someone develops a presentation for you to deliver, make sure their name shows up somewhere in the visuals.  Assuming your presentation goes well, end it by acknowledging the individual(s) who put it together.  It takes nothing away from you, and it demonstrates your support for your people.  It seems like a little thing, but it goes a long way. 



You get the picture.  Shine the light on your people.  Only the insecure and incompetent will miss the fact that the light will reflect most favorably on you.


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