Why do you suppose, with the thousands of leadership books available, that there is such a deficit of great leaders today? It’s not that people don’t read leadership books. Many of those books are best sellers.
Leadership books are great, and leaders should read them. I’ve read lots of them. They can be very helpful. But they alone are entirely insufficient to see people grow into great leaders.
It would be nice if we could just buy someone the right book, tell them to read it, and just sit back and watch them do all the things they read about. But important skills aren’t developed that way.
Think about it. Would you trust a doctor who earned his credentials only from reading books or blogs, going to conferences or watching videos? How about a pilot? How about an electrician? All of those learning tools are good. But they are all insufficient.
Relationship is indispensable to great leadership development. Entering critical roles requires apprenticing from someone who is what the follower wants to become. We must be shown, not just taught. This is why pilots, doctors and most tradesmen go through extensive, personal apprenticeship before they are given the responsibility that goes with the job title. People are trusting them to get it right.
Effective leadership development is apprenticeship. If a leader is going to make more leaders, they must be willing to play the role of coach.
And effective coaching relationships require proximity. Future leaders must be invited into a close enough relationship with their leader that they can see their leader in action and imitate his actions. As my friend, Jo Saxton, often says, “They can’t BE what they can’t SEE.” If you’re not willing to let people close enough to see you wrestle with conflict and hard decisions, don’t expect them to see you as their coach. They will find someone else. Believe me. And if you give people leadership responsibilities in your organization without coaching them to succeed, then don’t expect great results.
Making more leaders also requires transparency and vulnerability. It does not require you to model perfect execution of every leadership task. In fact, your people learn a TON from watching how you handle making mistakes.
My friend, Mike Breen, taught me that people don’t need me to be a perfect example, just a living one. That means a leader who is authentic, not pretending to have it all together (because everyone already knows you don’t). That’s what it means to be worth imitating. If you’re living transparently and working hard at becoming a great leader, admitting that you have not yet arrived, you will find lots of people wanting to follow you on that journey and learn from you. But if you feel you must impress them in order to lead them, you will most certainly lose them.
I’m not condoning managers and supervisors being incompetent. I’m assuming you’re already a good manager. Remember, here we’re talking about what’s below the surface in the lives of great leaders.
In coming weeks, we’ll discuss HOW to have coaching relationships with employees that are productive, transparent, authentic, appropriate, professional, and not exhausting.
1. Are you trying to impress those you lead or coach them? Are you willing to let them learn from your mistakes?
2. Are you a leader who has kept your employees at arm’s length? If so, can you explain why?
3. Are you willing to make time for your people and give them access to your real life as a leader?
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.