The myth of heroic leadership--soloism--is ancient and pervasive.
A few weeks ago, I met with a tremendous business leader. He runs a multi-billion dollar energy business that is global, complex, and volatile. An engineer by training, he's alert both to the political and the financial stresses that impact his industry and--like all his competitors--he's trying to keep up with the new energy technologies that could transform his business.
But that wasn't what he wanted to talk about. What concerns him most are the leaders within his organization. He knows that they're all smart and that they work all the hours available. (Some, crossing time zones, even work more.) But what he worries about is this: Are his leaders creating leaders?
The honest answer--right now--is that they aren't. They are so busy managing up that they haven't even thought about anything else. But here's the trap: As long as they're pleasing the boss, they can't please the boss. The only way to get on top of their game is to create leaders beneath them.
It's understandably hard for them to see this. But it is their ultimate test. The ones that figure this out will have proved they are capable of greater things, while the ones they don't will be stuck with a workload they can only just sustain.
This isn't an unusual situation. Even my business school students still imagine that their road to success lies in acts, ideas, moments of individual genius. They pay lipservice to teamwork and they're good at it. But they still haven't gleaned that truly great leadership develops the people who develop the people. It's the only way out of the rat race.