What Does It Mean to Step Up?
To Step Up is to recognize the times in your organization when no one else is willing to do what needs to be done. This usually happens when something is extremely difficult (even seemingly impossible) or for some reason is politically charged. The act of Stepping Up means that you have the courage to be vulnerable and do what needs to be done ... regardless of the personal sacrifices or political fallout. When you are brave enough to Step Up, you encourage those around you to do the same.
True leaders are the ones that Step Up when everyone else is looking for cover. By leader, I don't mean that they have a fancy title within the organization--their informal groups see them as the leader long before they receive a promotion or proper title. When you identify the informal networks that exist within your company, more often than not the leaders of these informal groups are the ones who are actively looking for opportunities to Step Up.
What Does It Mean to Step Back?
To Step Back is to provide the space for others willing and able to Step Up and not take away their opportunity to grow and to shine. If you find yourself in a position to Step Up, first look to see if there is anyone else who can and should be the one to Step Up. If so, encourage them to do so. More than that, give them the space to do it. That means you can support their efforts, but don't overshadow them. Even if it's a fully collaborative effort, be sure that they are the one seen as taking the big Step Up, so that you can help that person grow personally and professionally.
To Step Back is just as (if not more) important than to Step Up. Building a culture that encourages others to Step Up, means that you have purposefully Stepped Back, so that others have the opportunity to Step Up. In order to be in a position to Step Back, you must first have identified the key person or people who are prepared to Step Up. In the act of giving them space to perform, be sure they know that it's okay to make a mistake or even fail entirely. Great companies encourage risk taking and risk taking can often result in failure (see related article, How to Fail Your Way to the Top). And great companies not only survive these failures, but thrive as a result of them--it all depends on how they are handled and what key learning is applied to the overall business.
Knowing When to Step Up and Step Back
The balance between Stepping Up and Stepping Back is all about leading by example and encouraging others to think and act for themselves. As entrepreneurs, we often find that we are the ones who are doing most of the Stepping Up in the early days of the start-up or launch phase of the company. As we grow, if we're still the only ones Stepping Up, that means we're not growing and it's time to look inward as to why other capable people you've hired are not comfortable Stepping Up. Over time, it's the entrepreneur's job to do more of the Stepping Back so that his or her team can be the ones Stepping Up.
If you can be more conscious of this when looking at the most important tasks in your organization, you can help those who might otherwise not, Step Up. Likewise, if you find the same person or small group of people constantly Stepping Up, you might work with them to Step Back in order to give space for others to fill the void.
By incorporating this terminology into the workplace, your company can have active discussions and make purpose-drive decisions about today's leaders and tomorrow's needs for future leaders and continued growth. There are many ways to encourage leadership, but supporting those around you to feel comfortable Stepping Up is a really good place to start.