Imagine if you would, the wisest and most beloved ruler leading a country with a wealth of knowledge and experience. All the people of the country sought the ruler’s advice on all matters and were happy to be ruled. But as the country grew more prosperous, the ruler soon realised it was impossible to keep attending to every need and issue that arose. The ruler knew this problem would not go away, but the people not ready to resolve it on their own.
What to do? What to do…?
The more experienced of you may jump to the obvious answer at the end, which is that the ruler must learn to delegate and teach others, or risk total ruin. But as you are also keenly aware, that is always easier said than done. As playful as it sounds, I find this little metaphor fitting for today’s modern leaders, especially those managers today who are struggle in the same way; ‘To lead’ by learning to delegate and manage others. This can be difficult to understand and accept for some, but like with the metaphor earlier, it is the only correct answer to this problem.
“Leaders are just people who organise and direct others and ultimately must ensure everyone gets rewarded accordingly for contributing.”
Let’s start by being brutally honest and fair, leaders are not rulers. That’s an archaic form of thinking that has spawned some of modern history’s worst examples of leaders and leadership. What’s more, leaders don’t always have the right answers. Put aside the bravado and the idea that public perception must be maintained — That leaders must be this symbolic idol of infallibility or perfection, because they’re not.
It can be tempting to assume that knowledge and experience will always correctly guide a leader; as if the right reference of knowledge and the exact suitable set of experience will magically pop into the leader’s mind at the precise moment like a Disney movie special. But we know reality is seldom that optimistically OCD.
Over time, the experience and knowledge a leader acquired can actually become the problem, because lot of things can change and not all of the knowledge and experience stays useful or relevant. Those followers who are taking on more responsibility will not instinctively know what to process, how to process, or how to adapt to changes. That’s what the leader has to address — How to coach and develop others. This ultimately leaves leaders needing to learn how to coach!
Leaders often have the benefit of experience and knowledge. However, if that experience is not transferred and translated into a learning for the next generation to accept, all that experience will be wasted. And it will be no one else’s fault but the leader. Those who stubbornly cling to their own, “My way or the highway” attitude may be right, but may not gain the kind of acceptance needed for others to learn. Eventually, more and more will simply leave or respond with the collective mentality of “keep your head low and if it happens, just let it happen”. It’s a passive act of surrender, which people are likely to do until it finally becomes unfavourable or unbearable to stay. Then they leave, taking the benefit of their experience elsewhere leaving more work and a different problem to manage.
It may come as a shock to some but ‘managing people’ is NOT telling people what to do and getting what you want. The truth is that we tell people what to do because that’s the most direct way to get the convey what we want. But that doesn’t always work. Most managers today are chosen for their past accomplishments and rather their ability to actually ‘manage people’. Let’s face it. Focusing on just one preference (or style) of leadership is taking a tragically dim view of people. It’s like running a race but focusing on only moving one leg and not the other. You wouldn’t describe that as running, much like no one would consider that method of leadership…leadership! So you wouldn’t be much of a leader, if the people you lead don’t you struggle to communicate, empower, inspire others.
You might argue that certain people just have a certain leadership style, which might be something a lot of people tend to confuse themselves about. Because are you conflating between someone’s personal leadership preferences and expecting others to buy into it, with actually having an actual leadership philosophy with strategies, concepts, and skills to influence others to buy into it? Those are two entirely different things but many people just call them ‘leadership styles’. Only one of those things actually sounds like a plan. No points for guessing.
In the same way each leader has different preferences and strengths, so do followers. The difference here is that leaders are the ones who have something to pass on. To best address the differences and package the message, leaders have to excel in two aspects — personal mastery and communication skills. The reality is that most leaders have that role but aren’t aware of their lack of personal mastery and limited communication skills.
A good manager’s (similarly a coach’s) job isn’t necessarily to fix other people’s problems nor is it to fix other people so that they can just tell people what they want. Rather, it’s about empowering them to deal with their own challenges by unlocking their own resources and take charge of their own results. It’s not completely unlike that of a teacher or gardener — They create the ideal environment for those working to achieve goals and make it easier to be productive and deliver good results. This is what leadership skills are at the ground level; building better people around them – Deepening their abilities, enriching their contributions, and creating an environment that encourages them to be accountable for their own outcomes.