One of the hardest shifts for a young leader to make is from leading others to developing others. As the old adage goes, “what got you here, won’t get you there.” I’m able to identify those with leadership potential fairly early, usually even before I hire them. I was recently in a conversation with one of my young leaders that was on probation for being late to work too many times. I took him to lunch at my favorite restaurant (besides Chick-fil-A of course) and gave him some tough love. I told him that he has what it takes, I can see it in him. Searching for an analogy, I looked outside and saw some large rocks in the flower bed and said if you give me those large rocks and tell me to make a sand castle…I can’t do it, I need sand to make a sand castle. I’m not sure why I was thinking about sand castles in the moment but it worked for the analogy. The key ingredient (in this analogy sand) of a leader is the willingness to learn, grow, or be molded. I told him when I look at him it’s like I see sand, but there is another ingredient that I need to add. If sand is too dry it won’t work, I need water. With this young leader, I need to add some discipline. I told him that if he needed to get 3 alarm clocks and place them throughout the room so that he has to get out of bed to turn them off, then that is what he needs to do.
Our conversation didn’t stop there, it was time for this young leader to make the shift from leading others to developing others. Even though he was habitually late, he had mastered the art of leading a shift at the restaurant and was becoming complacent. Until this conversation, his internal drive was coming from his desire to “be better than everyone else.” The irony is that what usually gets you “noticed” as a leader is not what will not take you to the next level of leadership, developing others. If you are so focused on being the best, you will never develop others. I challenged him…
“When you stop caring about being in the spot light or getting the credit for running a good shift, you will continue to grow as a leader. You must develop those around you to be as good as you are, push them into the spot light and allow them to get some credit.”
He told me that he’d never thought about leadership that way, accepted the challenge and walked away from our conversation energized and excited about developing others.
It’s counterintuitive, but in order to continue to grow as a leader you have to stop making yourself irreplaceable, jumping into the spot light, and constantly seeking to justify your position. Instead, you must develop others around you to be as good as you are, maybe even better. A leader cannot truly lead or move to the next level of leadership until they have replaced themselves by developing others.