What if I told you that the most important role of a leader is to develop the next leader? I’m totally serious. There is nothing more important in your leadership role than training your replacement.
By developing your team to its fullest potential, you open the doors to your growth and advancement. When you have capable individuals ready to step into leadership roles, you become a prime candidate for promotion or larger projects. Moreover, engaged and growing teams tend to stay together longer, enhancing stability and productivity.
The challenge lies in that, as leaders, we often become engrossed in the day-to-day demands of tasks, projects, and desired outcomes. Regrettably, while many leaders diligently focus on honing their teams’ technical and task-oriented skills, they frequently overlook the crucial aspect of cultivating their actual leadership abilities. This oversight can be attributed to several common reasons:
Misconception of Leadership Success: As a leader, it’s natural to recognize that your own success hinges on the success of your team. Consequently, ensuring that each team member possesses the necessary skills to excel in their roles is instinctive. However, if we limit our efforts to this aspect alone, we find ourselves trapped in a stagnant cycle. It’s akin to the adage that you can either give a person a fish (in this case, teach them tasks exceptionally well) or teach them how to fish (instill leadership skills so they can eventually guide others).
Fear of Pushing Undesirable Tasks: Every leader understands that delegation should empower your team, not offload undesirable tasks. However, sometimes empowering the team requires having them do tasks that may seem undesirable. This can lead to feelings of guilt and the inclination to handle the task oneself instead of delegating it, which can be counterproductive for leaders.
Fear of Redundancy: When a leader delegates tasks and relies on their team to achieve targets and goals, it’s common for the leader to fear that they might become less valued by the organization. The thought of “Why do they need me?” can weigh heavily on their mind. However, this concern often stems from one’s own insecurities and does more harm than good, hindering leadership growth rather than enhancing job security.
Time Constraints: Leaders are often overwhelmed by time constraints, making it challenging to prioritize team development. The prospect of teaching someone to perform a task may seem more time-consuming than completing it oneself. However, in reality, the additional time invested in teaching the task yields significant returns, often multiplying the time saved once the individual becomes proficient at the task.
Now, the good news. You can overcome these obstacles and become a leader who truly develops the next generation of leaders. Here’s how:
Step 1: Take a Strategic View of Your Department
To be successful, you must assess where each team member stands. Identify skills gaps and create a plan to fill them. A strategic view of your department will help you set the course for team growth.
- Conduct Skills Assessments: Regularly (not just at year-end) evaluate the skills and capabilities of your team members. Identify areas where they excel and areas that need improvement.
- Create Individual Development Plans: Work with each team member to establish personalized development plans. Set clear goals and milestones for their growth.
- Invest in Training and Development: Provide opportunities for training, workshops, and mentorship programs to address skill gaps.
Step 2: Implement the ‘No Solutions, No Help’ Rule
Leaders often fall into the trap of providing answers, thinking it showcases their value. However, your true value lies in guiding team members to find their solutions. Encourage them to present problems with at least three possible solutions they’ve considered or tried. This will foster strategic thinking and independence.
- Communicate Expectations: Clearly explain the ‘No Solutions, No Help’ rule to your team. Encourage them to come to you with problems but also with potential solutions.
- Provide Coaching: When team members present problems with solutions, offer coaching and guidance to refine those solutions. Help them think critically.
- Reward Independence: Recognize and reward team members who consistently show independence and strategic thinking in problem-solving.
Step 3: Ask Thought-Provoking Questions
One of the most effective ways to develop your team is by asking questions. Encourage team members to think critically and find solutions themselves. Your role is to guide them through this process, not to provide all the answers.
- Develop Questioning Skills: Hone your ability to ask open-ended, thought-provoking questions. Practice active listening to understand your team’s perspectives.
- Encourage Team Discussions: Foster an environment where team members ask questions of each other. Promote healthy debates and information sharing.
- Celebrate Learning: Recognize and celebrate moments when team members develop innovative solutions through questioning.
Step 4: Provide Stretch Goals
Push your team members to achieve more than they believe they can. By setting stretch goals, you encourage growth and innovation. This step, along with the previous ones, contributes to a culture of continuous improvement and leadership development.
- Set Ambitious Targets: Challenge your team with goals slightly beyond their comfort zone. Encourage them to reach higher and exceed their expectations.
- Offer Support: While pushing for stretch goals, ensure your team knows you’re there to support them. Provide resources, coaching, and feedback.
- Acknowledge Achievements: Celebrate individual and team achievements when stretch goals are met or exceeded.
Remember, the most crucial role of a leader is to develop the next leader. By taking these actionable steps, you can create a thriving environment of growth and development. This all sounds easy, and in theory, it is. However, honing your skills as a leader takes time and practice. But, as your team evolves, you will find more time, less overwhelm, and more opportunity, leading to greater success.