As a leader, you’ve got a lot of spinning plates: crises to avert, goals to meet, people to coordinate. What if I told you none of those things, while necessary, is at the essence of leadership?
Okay, you say, what is at the essence?
I contend that supporting the growth of others is at the essence of leadership. By definition, leadership entails relationships between people. The very notion of leadership implies both a responsibility to others and a sense that the leader has more experience, wisdom or knowledge than her people. Therefore, a central aspect of the work of leadership is to support the growth of others.
Why is it so critical to support the growth of others? One pragmatic answer is this: Do you want to be 100 years old and still hanging in there? Or would you rather be enjoying your senior years, confident that the people you helped bring along are carrying on the work you began? Right this minute, I can think of several people of my generation or older who are desperate to relinquish some of their commitments, to slow their pace just a bit. But they don’t dare for fear that what they have created will collapse the moment they pull back. That’s not what any of us wants but we don’t always have a solid plan to keep from ending up in this position.
Supporting the growth of others is also critical because there are a multitude of issues calling for leadership. Each and every leader needs to take on the responsibility to support the growth of others, along with whatever leadership work he/she is directly engaged in.
Another reason to support the growth of others is that there are many roles needed to accomplish the work of leadership and none of us can do it all. In addition to the out-front leader, there’s also the second in command, the person who deals with the details, the individual who cares for and tends to others. If you are in a leadership role and you only focus on “your work” without supporting other people to develop in some of these other roles, there will be many gaps.
In spite of how central this responsibility is, my experience suggests that it can be easily neglected amidst day-to-day challenges. You have probably heard (and perhaps said this yourself), “It’s easier to do it myself than to teach someone how to do it.” It takes as strong a commitment to support others to grow as it does to engage in the work of leadership itself.
Lately, I've been thinking about the idea of leaving a legacy. For those of us who work in the “people business,” supporting the growth of others actually is our legacy. I am unlikely to leave buildings, or parks or companies behind. Instead, I aspire to instill in as many people as I can what I’ve learned in my life. That is what I see as my legacy. What will be yours?