In the business world, there is a lot of discussion about leadership. Very often, I find these discussions are really about how to lead followers. Very rarely, in my own experience, are these discussions about the skills required to lead leaders--which is unfortunate because that is where transformational business growth really comes from. The approaches overlap, but there are some distinct differences that need to be understood.
I recently had a chance to work again with a client that I had worked with several years ago. In our first engagement, he had hired a new leadership team. From our work together at the time, my initial assessment was that some were strong, others were not, and that over time the weak ones would be weeded out.
Boy, was I was wrong. The weak ones were still there and a number of the strong ones were gone. The biggest surprise was that one of the strongest leaders from that initial team was now as weak as the remainders. What had happened?
Poorly led leaders will choose one of two doors--they will leave or they will become weaker in order to survive. Here are some tips to ensure that you are building strong leaders and not just followers:
Building Strong Leaders
When you treat a leader as a follower, you are turning them into someone who does not develop the necessary independence, strength, and personal accountability for them to lead others. There is a difference between leading people through someone and leading someone who is leading others. In order to lead someone who is leading others, you need to give them these four things:
1) Territory and clear borders--Strong leaders need to have clarity about what space is theirs to command with little interference. Because you are building a team of leaders, you will have to create borders to avoid conflict when the areas of command intersect. Border skirmishes will inevitably happen and it will be your job to sort out what the leaders can't sort out on their own.
2) Objectives bigger than their own performance--Leaders need mountains to climb that are bigger than what they can accomplish on their own. This gives them motivation to engage people, set direction themselves, and push for achievement. If the goal is the size of their own talent and personal effort, you are treating them like a follower and you risk them shrinking to that size.
3) Due dates faster than what is reasonable--Any weight-lifter will tell you that if you want to get stronger, you have to lift increasingly heavy weights to the point of exhaustion. Building strong leaders means challenging them to accomplish goals faster than what others believe is possible. Time is unyielding and therefore requires creativity, diligence, perseverance, and leadership to accomplish the goals when other elements are in flux.
4) Stair-stepping their development--Leaders in development grow through increasing their challenges in all of the three items above. If you want to lead leaders, you need to regularly increase their capability through challenges, not coaching. Leaders like coaching when they ask for it. Followers like coaching all the time. Be unyielding on accountability, laser-like in clarity, and accessible to coach when requested.
My client had made the fundamental mistake of hiring leaders and then tried to lead through them, rather than building them as leaders. The result is that several years later he is more tired, the business is only bigger because of his efforts, and his team is paralyzed without his daily direction of what they should do next. It is not a good position to be in.