Think with me for a minute about your favorite coach. Maybe they were your athletic coach. Maybe they were another kind of teacher or mentor.
What made them your favorite? If you’re like most of us, they were your favorite because they stretched you to become more than you were before. Their influence in your life caused you to grow in character or skill. They inspired you to work harder, learn more, or become your very best.
What were your feelings toward that coach? Did you trust them? Were you loyal to them? Why? Was it because you knew they were on your side? Because you knew they had your best in mind, even when they challenged you? Would you say that person left a legacy, making the world better by making you and others better? Would you say that person sacrificed his or her own capital (time, energy, maybe even money or financial opportunities) to make you better?
That kind of leader is what I call a “Catapult Leader.” They’re someone who finds joy in seeing others grow as leaders. They’re not satisfied with just being personally successful. They’re going for greatness by investing their leadership capital to make more leaders. And as a result they continue to grow themselves.
Successful leaders concern themselves with gaining more followers, but Catapult Leaders concern themselves with launching more leaders. Their leadership capital strategy is one of multiplication, not just addition. They want to see those they lead begin to lead others. They’re excited, not intimidated, when those they lead become even more skilled than they are. They give more responsibility and authority to those they lead as a means of helping them grow their combined leadership capital.
Being a Catapult Leader requires sacrifice. But they make launching more great leaders part of their personal mission and business strategy. They see their responsibility to multiply their leadership capital through others as a gift to families, communities, their city and beyond. And, because of their reputation, they don’t have trouble recruiting motivated future leaders. Catapult Leaders understand this fascinating principle:
If we focus only on a successful career and growing our own leadership capital, we may or may not ever launch more great leaders. But if we make launching great leaders an important part of our job description, we’re very likely to find ourselves in high demand and see great success in our own professional careers.
If “Catapult Leader” describes your leadership style, contact me and I’ll network you with others in the Catapult Community, because we’re even better together. We can learn from each other, and encourage other leaders to join us on our mission to launch more great leaders. Let’s begin to change the culture in our spheres of influence.
If you’re not a Catapult Leader, but you aspire to be, let me help you. I can give you the skills to multiply more leaders for the rest of your career. If you’re interested in getting started, contact me and we’ll begin the journey with others who want to leave a lasting leadership legacy.
Get the leadership training you need with a Leadership Excellence Course coming this spring to Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., and Alaska.
Launching great leaders doesn’t just happen automatically. If it did, there would be a lot more great leaders running around everywhere. And if you’ve watched or read the news lately, you know that’s not the case. Launching great leaders requires investment of all of your capitals- spiritual, relational, intellectual, physical and, yes, financial. And it’s also messy work because, as we all know, people are messy. We wish they weren’t, but they are. A colleague of mine used to rant, “Why can’t these people all just do their jobs?” Oh, if leading people was only that simple.
So why invest in leaders?
Governments, non-profits and philanthropists spend TONS of money every year to help the disadvantaged and downtrodden. And that’s necessary, noble and important. (We only argue about whose responsibility it is.) But the biggest bang for the buck comes when we invest in making the leaders in our organizations and communities better. Because when a leader leads better, the benefit to that leader is multiplied exponentially in benefit to everyone they influence.
There are two categories of reasons why investing in leaders is not only smart, but also necessary.
First, return on leadership investment is high. The science is confirmed and the verdict is in. Investing in your leaders increases the value of your organization, not just a little, a lot! Investment in leadership development leads to greater levels of business success.
Great leaders know that their own commitment and capacity to coach new leaders increases their own personal value to their organization and gives them a competitive career advantage. When you spend the resources to grow leaders, you gain the trust and loyalty of your employees, resulting in increases in team productivity. And when those who work for you have great leadership skills, you have less workplace drama and distractions, reducing your own stress and level of conflict.
Here’s an important paradigm that leaders should wrestle with: If we set our focus on being successful and having a successful business, we may or may not ever get around to producing great leaders. But if we set our focus on becoming and producing great leaders, making that part of our business strategy, we’re likely to find ourselves more successful at our highest priorities than we ever dreamed.
The second reason for investing our capital in developing leaders is it’s what great leaders do. In fact, the number one job of great leaders is to make more leaders. Successful leaders count followers, but great leaders count leaders.
Our world is desperate for great leaders of character. So is your community, and probably your company. When we make better leaders, we make marriages, families, neighborhoods, and ultimately our country better. So, yes, by all means, lead your organization to success. But the most likely route to get you there is by leading your leaders to greatness. And in the process, you’ll leave a lasting legacy extending far beyond your office walls.
The U.S.S. John C. Stennis is the flagship of the U.S. Navy’s John C. Stennis Strike Group. The aircraft carrier is over 1,000 feet long, has a footprint of 4.5 acres, and weights 97 thousand tons. At sea it carries 6,200 Sailors and Marines, usually for six months at a time. Its kitchens serve 18,600 meals every day. The ship is propelled by two nuclear reactors. It can carry over 70 aircraft and three million gallons of jet fuel. Believe it or not, the average age of her crew is only 20 years old!
In 2008, I had the honor of spending two days onboard this engineering marvel while the Captain was exercising his crew in the Bering Sea. Watching the crews, both above deck and below, was truly inspiring. Every person knew how his or her personal role was allowing the ship’s crew to accomplish its mission. There were very few employee engagement problems here. Those issues were worked out long before the ship left port. To spend six months at a time in close quarters at sea with 5,000 others requires a level of commitment that few experience. There were no tourists, passengers or spectators (except me for those two days).
I had the pleasure of dining with the ship’s Captain. He had invested decades of his life in the Navy’s mission. And clearly he remembered where he came from. He had been trained from the time he was in his twenties to one day Captain one of the mightiest machines and one of the most dedicated crews in the world. At the pinnacle of his career, his focus was on two things: having the most capable aircraft carrier crew in the world, and raising up the next generation of world-class ship Captains, just as his Captains before him invested in him for decades.
The most amazing experience of my two days aboard the Stennis was standing on the deck as crews launched F-14 Tomcats, F-18 Super Hornets and other planes and helicopters from the carrier’s deck into the air and safely recovered them at the end of their missions. The four devices that launch these remarkable jets into the sky are steam-powered systems of 325-foot steel cables called catapults.
It was impressive to see how many planes and helicopters could be parked above and below deck by folding up wings and propellers and moving aircraft with four huge elevators. But it was eye opening to hear the Captain explain that the measure of success for an aircraft carrier was not how many aircraft could be parked on the ship, but how many could be launched OFF of the ship. A Captain is happiest when the deck is empty, because the crew has successfully launched their warriors into the air and out of sight to fly their various missions. You see, his mission was not to keep pilots and aircraft on his ship. His mission, and the mission of his senior officers and enlisted crew, was to train and launch leaders to accomplish their own missions. In that moment, I was reminded that the mark of a truly great leader is not how many followers they have, but how many more leaders they’ve launched.
In the years since that extraordinary visit, I’ve reflected many times on my own mission in light of the Stennis’ system of catapults, designed to launch leaders to do their mission and bring them safely back to train for their next mission. I have tried to create that kind of training and launching culture, whether as a military officer, a public official, or a pastor. It’s not enough to just be peoples’ leader. A legacy leader must be passionate about investing in the next generation of leaders. I’ve come to call leaders with that kind of commitment “Catapult Leaders.”
I’ve dedicated this chapter of my leadership journey to training and launching more Catapult Leaders, because this is my definition of great leadership. I’ve made my business success secondary to my primary role of giving my sphere of influence the gift of more great leaders. If you’re a Catapult Leader, or aspire to be, I want to connect with you, and connect you with other Catapult Leaders who join us on our mission of Launching Great Leaders.
Tell me about your passion for Launching Great Leaders by clicking here. I’d love to connect with you and dream about creating a Catapult culture in our organizations.
In Alaska, rarely do we enjoy our outdoor activities alone. With harsh weather and remote areas where we like to play, getting hurt when you’re alone can be disastrous. Similarly, I’ve found that the best way to learn a new outdoor activity is by doing it for the first time with someone who is good at it, asking them to teach me and show me the ropes.
Most of my mountaineering skills I’ve learned from my friend, Doug. He’s taught me how to detect areas of avalanche danger. He’s shown me how to test the mountain snow. He’s shown me how to use probes and avalanche beacons. He’s taught me techniques for climbing steep inclines in deep snow. I now do things and go places that I would not go if Doug had not taught me and showed me how to go there safely.
The same is true for people who follow our leadership. Are you trying to create a certain culture where you lead? Most of us are. We want a culture where a certain pattern of behavior is the norm. To lead people into that pattern of behavior, we need to do two things for them. These apply whether we’re re-orienting a whole corporation or raising a family.
First we must tell those we’re leading where we’re going. This seems obvious, but leaders typically aren’t heard as much, or as clearly, as we think we are. We assume that if we’ve told someone something once, that’s enough. The truth is it’s not nearly enough. Particularly when it comes to casting vision for change, our people need to hear our message multiple times. When you start to get sick of repeating yourself, that’s when you can start to feel confident that you might be communicating the vision or direction enough. Sorry, but that’s how it works.
Second, we must show our people what we want the culture to look like. We must demonstrate the behaviors and practices that we expect to see from them. Remember, they can’t be what they can’t see.
Two Danger Zones
There are two danger zones that we need to avoid if we want to create a culture we dream of.
Tell, Don’t Show
The first danger zone is the Tell, Don’t Show Zone. We all know our actions speak louder than our words. So does our inaction. If the change doesn’t visibly begin with us, the value of the vision becomes suspect. People aren’t likely to follow you somewhere they can’t see you going. If we’re leading by example out of sight of our people, it’s like the tree falling in the woods when there’s no one around to hear it. To them, it’s like it didn’t happen. So think of ways to make your behavior changes viewable.
Show, Don’t Tell
The second danger zone is the Show, Don’t Tell Zone. We often make assumptions about how much people are noticing. So we wonder why our leading by example doesn’t seem to be working. Shouldn’t people be picking up on this? Most of the time, we need to be more explicit in talking about our expectations than we think we have been. Would you try to raise your kids without explaining your expectations to them, just expecting them to pick up on them from watching you? No way! Teaching someone how you want them to do something makes your expectations more clear and builds confidence that what you’re asking for is doable.
Show and Tell
The Show and Tell Zone is the sweet spot. This is where we repeat the cycle of explaining our exceptions, demonstrating what those expectations look like in view of our people, helping them act accordingly, observing, and giving clear feedback.
If we’re more intentional about both explaining what we want and what we’re doing, and more intentional about demonstrating what we expect in view of the people we’re expecting it from, we can be more satisfied with the effectiveness of the culture we’re trying to create.
Jay Pullins is the founder and owner of Anchorage-based Catapult Leadership Solutions, providing expertise in developing the character and competency of leaders in all sectors. He is also a leadership course facilitator for Academy Leadership, LLC.