After decades of time and millions of dollars spent on leadership development and mentoring programs, why are we still facing a leadership crisis at many levels of the business world? By Steve Farber at HBR.
By now, most business leaders have learned that our job is to expand and develop our own capacity, while simultaneously preparing the next generation of leaders to take the reins. Develop talent, we've been taught. Be helpful. Be a coach. Mentor someone. But it doesn't happen all that often — at least, not in any significant way.
I believe it's time for us to set a new gold standard for what it means to be a leader of substance and influence.
We need to pick up where many "programs" leave off by realizing that it's simply not enough for us to be helpful coaches and advisors to the people around us at work. The greatest, most successful and well-respected leaders that I've encountered in my two decades of consulting, advising, writing, and speaking are not just helpful: they've come to understand that the true measure of their greatness as leaders is their ability to develop leaders who go on to surpass them — who rise to a level greater than themselves in skill, influence and ability.
There are pitfalls, of course. Devoting yourself to another's elevation potentially carries a whole boatload of emotional (or egotistical) baggage, for example. But I won't argue those points here or try to convert the skeptics; instead, just for the sake of this discussion, I'll assume you're with me on this and offer these 6 steps to help you get started on your own "Greater Than Yourself" endeavor:
1. Choose Wisely While, ideally, Greater Than Yourself (GTY) is something you should do with many people ("all people" may be a bit of a stretch for even the most high-minded among us), it's often best to start small. In the beginning, you should choose one person as your "GTY Project." But choose wisely. Pick someone you trust and deeply believe in. It should be someone whose personal aspirations can be served by your unique experience, skills, values, and network. Be conscious and deliberate about the qualities you seek in your GTY: pick someone who has the drive, energy, heart and desire to take full advantage of what you have to give them, and whose values are congruent with your own. And — most important — it should be someone you (dare I say it?) love. Okay, I'll accept "deeply care about."
2. Open The Door and Invite Them In Sit down with the person you've chosen and have a frank and open discussion about what your intent is for him or her, and make sure that they're willing and up to the task. Let them know that your job will be to do and give whatever you can to raise them up above yourself in capacity and success in the appropriate arena. For example, my GTY project, Tommy Spaulding, wants to excel in the arena of writing and public speaking — my professional playground. In the very beginning, I made a commitment to Tommy that I'd do everything humanly possible to help him become a better-known, more influential author/speaker than I am, as long as he was willing to take full advantage of the opportunities and contacts, etc. I would offer to him. He was.
3. Hook Them Up Think through your entire network of contacts and determine who would be valuable to your GTY. Who can help? Whom should they meet? Then open the floodgates and make all the appropriate introductions. Hold nothing and no one back. I've introduced Tommy to my favorite speakers bureaus, my business manager and my publisher. He just got his first book deal through those contacts.
4. Sing Their Praises Think of yourself as the advocate for your GTY's value and talent, and talk about them every chance you get. Shine the spotlight on their accomplishments when they have them. Look for opportunities to let others know about your belief in this special individual.
5. Practice Tough Love Someone once said that feedback is a great gift until you get some. Of course you'll want to offer plenty of words of encouragement, but you'll also need to hold them ridiculously accountable to their own goals and aspirations, which means smacking them around when necessary. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
6. Demand the One Commitment GTY is fundamentally selfless act (think of it as The Golden Rule on steroids), and you should expect nothing in return, no quid pro quo. With one exception: demand that your GTY take on someone else as their GTY, and so on down the line. It's the old pay it forward approach, and the implications of such a commitment are significant.
The idea of changing the world has become more than a little clichéd, of late. But this on-going commitment to another's enrichment really will add up. Maybe it won't change the "whole wide world," as we used to say when we were kids — but it can certainly change the world of your company, your business unit, your team, or your community.
And I can't think of a better, nobler way to solve a leadership crisis.