The First Secret of Developing a Leader
It hit me on the way home that I said the wrong thing.
I stood and embraced Jack when he walked into the coffee shop where I was meeting with a young leader. Jack’s in his 80’s and an elder statesman in the community where I live.
He looked at the young man, then back at me, and asked, “Is he a good student?” Jack’s question made me a little uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure why.
I said, “Yes, he’s a great student,” and left it at that.
On the way home, about an hour later, it hit me.
Josh wasn’t the student. I was.
Leaders develop leaders by modeling and teaching leadership. But, every teacher learns before they teach. More important, every teacher learns while they teach.
Leaders are learners.
The first secret of developing a leader is teaching about leadership comes second. Learning about them comes first.
Successful leaders always study people.
- What do they already know?
- How do they feel about their performance?
- Do they feel connected and in the loop?
- How powerful do they feel?
- How do they perceive their role?
- What’s important now?
- What skills are most important to success now?
- Where do they feel uncertain?
- Where do they need greater clarity, simplicity, or focus?
- What drives them?
- What brings them fulfilment?
- What are their frustrations?
- What are they reluctant to try? Why?
- How can their strengths be utilized?
- Where might their skills be better utilized?
- Who should they develop? How?
- Who can expedite their journey?
Bonus: How much control do they feel over their area of responsibility?
Second level learning:
I want Josh to reflect on his journey. It isn’t what I teach. It’s what he teaches himself.
“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.”
How can leaders develop other leaders?
Develop other leaders by being patient. Allow them to make mistakes. Realize that the journey of becoming a great leader never ends, it is always evolving. Once you stop evolving as a leader and stop helping others grow as leaders, that is the point you stop being a leader.
Thanks Michael. Great stuff! You made me think about encouraging leaders to step forward imperfectly. Sometimes we spend too much time polishing the path. Step out and learn as you go.
There is, of course, the issue of losing credibility if you fall too far below expected standards.
Learning about someone else implies caring about that someone. Great leaders care. They care to know about the people they serve and the people on their team. They’re driven to understanding in order to find the right solutions. They infect others with curiosity, instill the concept of collaboration and the desire to see good outcomes. They learn from their mistakes. And they share all of this experience and model leadership behaviors for the benefit of others – their students.
Thanks for another great post Dan!
Thanks Gabrielle. The simple word “care” says so much. I feel the compassion.
Great Article!Many people think there is formula for leadership and try to follow the success tactics of others.True leadership capabilities are born out of honest introspection which will help evolve our own strategies.
Wow, well said Jose! There’s obviously value in studying successful leaders (I’m looking at you Dan) but just trying to copy them, while possibly leading to some success, will not usually lead to you becoming the best version of yourself and feeling good about who you’ve tried to mutate into.
Don’t look too hard James!
Thanks!There is some merit in replicating success tactics as long as you pay attention to context.
Thanks Jose. If formulas worked, more of us would better leaders. 🙂
What a great reminder that our duty as leaders is to invest ourselves fully in the lives of those we serve. We cannot help someone unless we understand where they are in their journey and who they are.
Thanks Emily. I like the the term investment. It suggests we give AND look for return. The return isn’t selfish. It’s for the good of all involved, especially the organization.
In some ways I think the hardest part is hunting out the student’s insecurities that they hide from you or themselves. Too often we are taught culturally that being a leader means being tough and not showing weakness.
The established leader has to keep this in mind even for herself, questioning whether she’s artificially inflating her confidence or knowledge to appear worthy of being the leadership mentor and not a fraud. On some level, don’t we all think we’re frauds?
Thanks James. The imposter syndrome appears in all levels of leadership. Glad you brought it up in this context.
Faking leads to faking. Shallow relationships result.
I find when I share my frailties, it becomes easier for others. Of all the modeling we do this is essential to authentic connection.
Important question Dan. Developing leaders is a leader’s ultimate legacy toward ensuring the sustainability of the organization’s mission beyond current leadership.
If “being a leader is synonymous with being yourself” then developing leaders must involve helping others becoming their best selves. To “be yourself” it would help to “know yourself”. Your guiding questions are great in helping leaders take the time to get to know those they hope to develop, toward enhancing self awareness and alignment between who they are and who they are being.
Two additional questions come to mind- 1. What are the person’s dreams and passions, and to what extent does their current role make space for and leverage them?
2.How aligned is the person’s self assessment with that of the leader and others- and what role might the leader play in helping to enhance the alignment through caring and candid feedback and other objective metrics.
Thanks for getting my thinking going this morning with your thoughtful post!
Have a great day
Thanks Lori. Love the questions you added! Both are important. #2 feels like, “Are we on the same page?” It’s easy to be talking past each other.
Your inclusion of legacy reminds me that we must include others or when we go, what we have done is lost. I’m seeing a sense of concern in a leader who struggles to let go and let others, right now. We all should live as if we are will be gone tomorrow.
When the best leaders are gone, everything runs smoothly without them.
Leaders share their knowledge and experiences with others. By that leaders still alive in others.
Thanks mjazzar. You nailed it.
This is serendipitous. I had to write up two pages to submit
for an upcoming Great Teachets retreat. We all are to collaborate
with our ideas. I wrote that I feel I’m 1/3 subject matter expert
and 2/3 coach. The only way to coach is to know your student. To do
that requires listening with all of our faculties. We then have to
communicate publically that we believe in the person. We must be
genuine. Caring can’t be faked. When students know that you recognize
who they are – the classroom is transformed into a learning community
Thank you for eloquently validating my beliefs.
Thanks dlwteacher. I appreciate your comment. It’s a pleasure to be part of serendipity. Your ration of 1/3 to 2/3 is a wake up call to everyone who believes technical skill is the answer.
Modeling leadership seems to be the most important role of any leader but the most difficult one to master.
Thanks Calvin. One challenge of modeling the way is determining what an observe actually sees and how they interpret it.
we try to teach, but it’s what they learn that matters.
Thanks billgncs. Yup! The separation between teaching and learning disconnections students and teachers.
What I appreciate the most about this post is the way your focus on learning from others and not others learning from you, which has been the traditionally accepted view of a person in any kind of authoritative role.
Personally, I view this as a fundamental principle of “leadership” in this new and exciting times of change in business.
This was a huge one that took me many, many years to actually start living the principle.
Once again Dan, wise words!
Thanks Michelle. I wonder why it takes us so long to learn to be learners?
So powerful Dan! I appreciate you sharing how continuous learning needs to be embedded into the mindset of an effective leader. Without an insatiable curiosity for learning, a leader will always face a limit to his/her potential. But when, the leader has the right heart, head, and hand to grow and learn, the sky is your limit.
Paul// Leadership Blogger, http://www.paulsohn.org
Thanks Paul. Curiosity is a beautiful word. Glad you added it.
We have to know ourselves well first; our own strengths and weaknesses. And we need to be willing to get to know our people beyond what we think is ‘best’ for them. …Beyond our own ‘projections’.
Tuning in to learning about their unique strengths and weaknesses, wants/needs, and guiding as needed in those areas.
None of us can do that well if we aren’t willing to get close enough to learn and know someone.
Another good one Dan.
Thanks Samantha. Self-knowledge is necessary so that we can begin where WE are and adapt to where they are. For example, for me, talking is exploring. But, I often deal with leaders who enjoy time to think. That means seeing myself and then adapting to them. Those who can’t see themselves can’t adapt to others.
What makes this worse is that those who can’t adapt to others wonder why others are so hard to get along with. As you indicate, it begins with self-knowledge/awareness.
You hit the nail on the head with this one! Teaching is best done by modeling the behavior. It’s best to have those we lead to really discover themselves through the process as well. We aren’t trying to create little “mini-me’s”, but we are trying to instill some sense of the same ideals and beliefs we have as mentors.
The “play by play” list you provided with Learners is brilliant. This is exactly the point I’m trying to drive home with my site. Learning about who you’re mentoring (or who your mentor is) is so much more important than just teaching those aforementioned ideals and beliefs. These are people that we are molding and shaping to lead future generations. We need to find out what motivates them and really exploit that. It might not even be the same thing that motivates us, but that’s just fine. As teachers and mentors we are the ones that need to call out the gifts of those we lead and support that.
Thanks! I had my initial teleconference with about 8 of the 14 new pastors I have been given leadership supervision over and these questions are exactly what I concentrated on. Asked each of them for a timeline bio emphasizing their highs and lows on each assignment. Again, great read this morning!
Great post! It serves as a reminder that the goal shouldn’t be to lead others but, better yet, to strive toward knowing oneself.
The difference between “boss” and leader is, in my view, a leaving behind of ego- in the wisdom above, the absence of a need to create mini-me’s. The paradox is, when I don’t need to be validated but focus on developing the individual and the team, they support me and our goals are better achieved,
Thank you, an insightful post!
I was recently working with a group containing a self-appointed ‘leader’ with a smile that was fixed and impenetrable. He was unable to let it fade, unable to let anyone past it, unable to accept help or consider a different viewpoint. Just the Cheshire cat smile of the supremely and blindly selfconfident! One of the most challenging clients in my “Changechemistry” management leadership consultancy in London.
The lesson? Let your smile slip sometimes – you’ll learn something new.