The Best Leaders Develop Other Leaders

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By Eileen Habelow, Ph.D.

The best leaders develop other leaders.

If you are not developing your people, are you really a leader?  Effective managers get work done.  Effective leaders, on the other hand, get work done AND develop new leaders while they are doing it.

I don’t tend to spend a lot of time on semantics, but there is a big difference between someone who manages well and someone who leads effectively.  Both are paid by a company to get work done and to achieve goals.  But, the most important thing to know about a leader is how well he or she is developing the people on the team, strategically and purposefully.  I prioritize developing your people as #1 because I believe if you develop your people effectively, the work will get done.  In fact, it is likely that MORE work will get done.

If your goal is to develop your people, delegation is not about looking at your ‘to-do’ list and dumping your least favorite tasks.  (See a previous blog here.)  Effective delegation, if it is intended to develop your people, has to START with your people!  The following advice provides a high-level view of effective delegation to develop.

1. Consider Your People

Ask yourself these questions:  What are the critical competencies your people need to be successful in their current role?  What are the critical competencies needed for the next level or a different role?  Who is ready for a promotion?  Who on your team is ready and willing to be developed for the next level?  Who needs to be stretched in their current role?  What are the strengths of your current team members, individually?  How is each individual motivated?  In what areas have you observed high energy and effort by an individual?

Knowing your people is crucial.  You may have to ask some of these questions.  You may already know the answer.  A ‘career conversation’ could be the most appropriate context for an exchange with each employee.  Whatever your approach, this needs to be an ongoing effort to get to know and stay in touch with the goals of each of your employees.  This knowledge will help you focus on specific opportunities to share for development.

 2. Differentiate Your Work

Ask yourself this question:  Of all the work that is currently considered your responsibility, which tasks and projects MUST you, and only you, accomplish?

There are some legitimate tasks I can think of that the leader MUST do – while you might get input from others on these tasks, to delegate them fully is inadvisable.  Think of tasks that involve evaluating performance, assigning raises and titles and making hiring decisions.  There are others that might make your list.   But, once you finish making the list of things that ONLY you can do, what is left on your list?  Everything left on your list is a candidate for delegation!  When I do that exercise during our sessions, most leaders have a big aha moment…the list of things that can be delegated, assuming you have the personnel to delegate to, is much longer than most leaders think.

3. Align and Coach

Ask yourself this question:  How much time do you spend thinking about how to ‘protect’ your employees from the ‘heat’ at work?

Some leaders are very concerned about protecting their employees and filtering the messages.  While there are clearly times where filtering is important, unfortunately, that is NOT the environment in which people grow.

Now, ask yourself this critical, personal question:  When, in your career, did you experience the most fulfilling professional growth?

When I ask leaders this question and they describe the circumstances around their most fulfilling professional growth, I hear phrases and words such as:  exciting, very difficult, under stress, stretched, out of my comfort zone, supported enough, independence, critical tasks, felt like I contributed to the business.  Very consistently, I hear those phrases and words.  Remember that the next time you are planning to delegate to develop – make sure what you are delegating is important, has meaning and stretches your employee!

Many of us are familiar with the 70/20/10 rule that claims that 70% of development at work comes through on the job experiences and challenges.  If that is true, then while I believe every employee owns their own development, the majority of development an employee receives at work depends on how effectively their leader delegates!

Yes, it is often easier to do it yourself.  Yes, it is often quicker to tell them exactly how to do it.  Yes, it can be scary to ask someone else to do work for which you are ultimately accountable.  And, yes, it can make your job more fun if you pass off the ‘grunt work’.  But great leaders know that effective delegation takes some time up front that generates an exponential return on the time investment at some point in the future.

Strategically and purposefully develop your people – the work will get done and your business will grow!

Here are other interesting resources and thoughts on delegation:

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