The Dark Side of Strong Leadership Could you be suffocating the leaders around you?
Are you a strong, capable leader?
If you answered yes, then you are in danger of being a leader who overshadows the leaders you’ve placed around you. You may vehemently disagree, and you may be right. However, I invite you to at least consider this possibility: Could your strong leadership be suffocating the leaders around you?
Could this be you?
Have you ever been around strong, magnetic leaders? Leaders who people adore, respect, maybe even revere. The type of daring, effective leaders who make things happen. When they walk into a room, everyone notices their presence and gets a little quieter. I have been around such leaders and noticed something stark. The inner circle of leaders around them often seem subdued. This is not the leader I aspire to be. This leader, as effective as they may seem, is not releasing people into their potential. Could this be you?
I have seen this phenomenon in my own leadership. Each year, my brother and I try to get away from our work and make a trip overseas. Almost every year when I return to work, I stand back and think to myself, Do I need to leave more often? Our team usually comes up with an innovative solution to some business problem we have and executes it in my absence. Even though I am glad the team feels the freedom to move us forward without having to check with me, I have wondered if my presence prevents their spontaneous expression of this kind of action.
I want to invite you for a moment to think of your inner circle, your team. How often do they, out of their own volition, come up with an idea, solution, or innovation, bring it to the table, and decidedly execute it? Ideas that were not encouraged or generated with your help. If your answer is none, or a few, then I invite you to consider a new goal for growth in your leadership.
Here are two principles I have observed in respect to this important topic:
Do you give all the answers?
When a leader gives all the answers, eventually they will be the only one giving answers. Strong leaders tend to have a powerful presence. Aside from their position of power, most of the time they have character traits or skills that are formidable, traits that have propelled them to where they are now. This brand of leaders are smart, learned, seasoned, and wise in many areas. When I have worked with people who are further advanced than I, leaders I esteem to have a solution or plan of action for any problem, I find myself slowly getting quiet and carrying out their plans. Even when they invite me to participate in decision-making and give my opinion, because I suspect they will come up with something bigger and better, my mind parks in neutral. While this sounds unhealthy, I see this dynamic even within healthy teams and well-meaning leaders.
Here is my challenge to you: Next time there is a problem or issue, commit to not giving any answers. See what your team does. You may have to be creative in bowing out of the decision-making because they are probably anticipating you to give the answers.
You may think, Wes, I have more experience. I know more. I’ve been through more. I will have better answers. That’s where the problem lies. Because you know more, you are killing the creativity, innovative thinking, and initiative in your people. What will bring you success is not more of your own right answers, rather it is an empowered group of leaders generating new ideas surrounding you.
Do you tell people what to do and how to do it?
When people choose what to do and how to do it, they are highly motivated. The most empowered people are those who feel they had the space to generate an idea and decide how to execute it. When someone gives me an idea, my first instinct is to evaluate whether it is good or bad, whether it supports our mission and values, to determine whether they should do it or not. It’s a natural response for leaders who care about their teams and organizations. But this instinctive thinking is also what leads us to choke off people’s drive to do great work and continue generating ideas.
Here is my challenge to you: Let your people come up with ideas and do them the way they see fit. You may strongly protest, but how do I let people do whatever they want, whenever they want? We will go broke. I do not mean to allow everyone to operate with unlimited freedom and no boundaries. If the idea is too reaching, feel free to discourage it. But if it is not, let your people go through with their ideas. You will see a level of enthusiasm that you have never seen before.
I hope you are able to continually challenge yourself to draw the best from your people. They want to be creative and effective. May we empower them to do so.
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