Great Leaders Think Exponentially
A desire for personal growth and improvement is important for all leaders. Not just desire, but a plan to grow our leadership capital and capacity. When we improve, our organizations improve, and that’s important.
But for great leaders personal improvement is not enough. Great leaders see their job as helping everyone in the organization get better at what they do, especially leaders. Great leaders see themselves as not just leaders of people, but also leaders of leaders. They invest in more than their own capacity to lead. They invest in the leadership capital of those they lead, and train those they lead to invest in the leadership capital of those THEY lead.
Let me give an example of what it looks like to think exponentially and have exponential leadership impact. Let’s say Sue recognizes that improving her communication skills will help her to be a better leader. So Sue invests in the training to make her a better communicator. As a result, her team experiences more clarity and less confusion, they begin to perform together at a higher level, and her department’s productivity increases significantly. That’s good! If every leader just made that much investment, we’d all experience the benefits.
But Sue thinks exponentially. She thinks to herself, “If I can learn to be a better leader by improving my communication skills, so can others. Why not help others learn to do what I learned to do.” Sue decides she would like to train Brian, Gwen and Adam, three of her direct reports, to do the things that now make her a better communicator.
Sue also recognizes that doing something well and training others to do it well are different things and require different sets of skills. So Sue invests in the training she needs to become good at training others. Now she has not only grown her own leadership capacity and the productivity of her department, she now has the skills to grow the leadership capacity of more people. This is where Sue’s leadership capital begins to grow exponentially.
Now Sue trains Brian, Gwen and Adam to be better communicators, exponentially improving clarity and productivity and decreasing confusion in her department. And that’s just the beginning. Sue now has the skills to continue training others to improve various leadership skills for the rest of her career.
Here’s where Sue’s leadership capital goes parabolic, creating the opportunity to leave a lasting leadership legacy: Sue thinks to herself, “If I can learn the skills to train others to improve their leadership skills, then other leaders can learn those skills too. What if I learned to train people to train people?” So again Sue invests her own leadership capacity with the intention of using her new skills to train leaders who will train more leaders to grow the leadership capital of others. Now she can not only train people to improve their leadership skills, she can also train people to train more people to grow THEIR leadership skills, and so on. Eventually Sue creates a culture in her organization that holds leadership development as one of its key values, and her organization earns a reputation as the place to be if you want to be developed as a leader.
This is the essence of “Catapult Leadership.” It’s a selfless commitment to seeing our organizations and ourselves as multipliers of great leaders, for the sake of our departments, our whole organizations, our families, our communities and our world. Because better leadership really is key to better, more effective organizations and communities.
If you share my vision of not only being a better leader, but also being a better leader of better leaders, then consider joining my Catapult Community. Read here for more info.
Great Leaders are Trust Builders
A few years ago, I stepped into a leadership position where I was to lead a group of people who had lost trust. They had lost trust in their previous leader (who was no longer there), their board who governed their organization, and even had lost trust in each other. Leadership in the past had been abusive, dismissive and at times manipulative.
This was going to be a tough assignment! It reminded me a bit of working with animals that had been abused, who would either cower or snarl when they were approached. Right from day one, people I was to lead responded to me with disrespect, fear and manipulation. How was I going to turn around a team that was so dysfunctional?
About that time, I picked up a book by Patrick Lencioni, called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. (I figured a book with a title like that might be applicable.) To this day, what I learned about building trust is unforgettable. I’ll try to paraphrase in my own words.
Imagine that a person you work with has a “trust jar” sitting on their desk with a certain number of “trust marbles” in it. When you, their leader, do something that they perceive to be trustworthy, it’s like putting a marble in their jar. The more of your marbles they have in their jar, the more secure they feel concerning your leadership, and the more they trust you. When you do something that causes them to feel insecure, it’s like removing a marble from their jar. When you are withdrawing more marbles than you are depositing, their anxiety increases. When you’ve removed all of the marbles from their jar, you’ve depleted their trust, and irrational behavior is likely to be the result.
If you’ve been a leader for more than a week, you’ve discovered that your actions, at least at times, are going to cause someone distress. You can’t always make decisions that everyone is going to be comfortable with. Getting things done sometimes necessitates withdrawing a trust marble from someone’s jar.
And that’s before we factor in honest leadership mistakes, which we all make.
The key to building trust with your people is to maintain a positive balance of marbles in their trust jars. Since you know you’re going to be making withdrawals from time to time, then you must be proactive about making intentional trust deposits frequently. (By the way, this is true of the people you WORK FOR as well as the people who work for you.)
What kinds of behaviors make deposits into peoples’ trust jars? It’s pretty likely that your people would answer that question the same way you would. So begin by asking yourself that question. Write down the list of behaviors that add marbles to your personal trust jar.
The Golden Rule that we all grew up with says we should treat others the way we want to be treated. But the Platinum Rule says that great leaders know their people well enough to know how THEY need to be treated. So take the next step and ask each of your people individually what kinds of behaviors they find to be trustworthy. Most likely, just asking them that question will be a significant trust deposit of its own.
My story ended well. Even though I have moved on from that organization, I’m happy to say many of those former-employees are still my dear, trusted friends today.
Jay Pullins has been leading and developing leaders in a variety of settings for over 30 years. He has a diverse background as a leadership coach, military officer, an appointed state official, and executive leader of Alaska's largest church. Jay has trained over 1,400 leaders in the last five years, from Alaska to Southern California, in various fields from universities to military, construction, product distribution, manufacturing, telecommunications, churches, banks, casinos, and a railroad.