I’ve seen thousands of leaders up close over a 35-year career. It’s been fun to look for patterns and themes. One of the questions, I’ve tried to answer is this, “Why do some leaders stall while others, in very similar circumstances, soar?”
Before I share a few observations on this question, I feel the need to acknowledge the complexity of this issue. Clearly, the answer is multi-faceted. Success factors can include training, environmental factors, and perhaps even DNA. However, none of these are the topic of this post.
I think one of the primary determinants of the trajectory, longevity and impact of a leader can be encapsulated in his or her response to one question…
What is my primary role?
To simplify this further, I’ll propose three possible answers to the question. The answer you and I select makes all the difference in our leadership journey.
A. Doer – Many of us started here. We were solid, if not outstanding, individual contributors – we did something with excellence. More than likely, someone in a position of authority noticed our effort and before we knew what had happened, we were given a position of leadership.
Often, men and women given this new role receive no training, and the expectations are murky at best; we just know we are supposed to produce results, so we do. We do the work alongside those we were charged to lead. Before long, we reach our personal limit and realize our current approach to “leadership” is not sustainable. In a search for a solution, we discover Option B.
B. Delegator – For many leaders, this discovery is a breath of fresh air. Many of the challenges we faced as a Doer are gone. We now have more time, more freedom and more capacity. The dark side of this approach is the dependence, or codependence we can create along the way.
For many leaders, delegation is a thinly veiled command and control model of leadership. While this style has merit in limited circumstances (e.g., the battle field), it has unintended consequences that greatly limit a leader’s effectiveness and capacity long-term. The primary concern is the fact the leader, now more than ever, is the lid on the enterprise. If we rely on people to know what to do and how to do it only when we tell them, we are still a prisoner to those we lead. Tragically, many leaders get stuck in this mode and thus, their career is stalled indefinitely.
C. Developer – The good news, there is another way to get work done. A way that is sustainable over time. The leaders I’ve seen excel time and time again, see their role differently. They don’t see themselves as a Doer or a Delegator, although in some cases they’ll do both these things. They fundamentally see themselves as a Developer. They know that it is only when they develop others, they are truly multiplying their impact. Leaders love multiplication!
If you want to accelerate your career development, perhaps you need to be more of a Developer. [Tweet “The best leaders always invest time, energy and resources to develop people.”]
Are you primarily a Doer, Delegator, or a Developer?