Companies count on leaders to do as their titles suggest and provide the vision and momentum to keep the company moving toward maximum success. The strongest leaders, however, also know when to step back and let others on the team lead. In fact, empowering and creating other leaders ensures the long-term success of a company.
Leaders who are also founders may have the hardest time stepping back, because they weren’t promoted to a leadership role. Their companies simply grew up around them, says Lisa Sansome, a leadership coach and consultant at LVS Consulting in Ontario, Canada.
“Stepping back is really hard for founders because this is often their baby and they started on their own. But as companies get bigger, founders have to make the transition to confidently and comfortably let go of things because they can’t possibly have insight into everything.”
Sansome says that rather than seeing the need to hand off some tasks as a sign of losing control, leaders should realize it’s a sign of success. And if you hire and delegate well, she adds, handing over leadership to others will come more easily.
Robert Grossman, founder and peak performance partner of Black Diamond Leadership, a business and leadership development company in Los Angeles, Calif. suggests that leaders should “lead from the balcony,” always take steps back and find ways to empower others.
Not only does this reduce the founder or senior leader’s burdens, but “By taking steps backward, you’ll begin to see who is moving into a leadership role,” Grossman says.
Sansome adds, “The job of an employee is to make their boss’s life easier. So let them.”
EXPLAIN THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Not only do leaders have to step back in order to foster leadership in their team, they need to be very clear about the kind of engagement they seek.
Sansome explains, “A lot of leaders give a task and say when they need it and that’s where they stop.” But she says the employee needs to know such things as: how to contact the leader, when to do so, what the expectations are for the task, and how often they should meet with the leader.
“This can look like the leader saying ‘I’m going to check in with you every Wednesday and here’s what I’d like to learn…rather than just being surprised by the boss stopping in,” Sansome explains.
Grossman concurs, “It’s important the leader, as they’re giving more responsibility to people, has articulated clearly the project they’re working on and has set them up properly to assume the leadership role.”
ALWAYS BE LEARNING
Another strategy is to encourage a culture of constant learning, Sansome says. Send employees to conferences and workshops, bring in people to do talks, or simply watch Ted Talks and read articles and discuss them over lunch.
“I believe learning is an inherently social activity. Have conversations and share with others,” Sansome says.
It will be a lot easier for leaders to step back and hand off tasks if they’ve done the work of consciously developing other leaders, Grossman says. Leadership does not come naturally for everyone.
“I would strongly encourage a leader not to take somebody who has never been in a leadership role and put them in a leadership role without training and preparing them first,” Grossman says.
The process of grooming someone for a leadership role, he says, includes helping that person create a vision for their own leadership, asking them what they think could go wrong, what kind of coaching they want from their supervisor and how often they wish to meet and talk about the leadership role.
“It’s vital for leaders to learn and master coaching conversations,” Grossman says. He breaks down leadership skills into a pyramid of three crucial elements: communication, emotional intelligence and trust. Leaders should seek out and foster these aspects within employees they are grooming for leadership roles.
Sansome also recommends that founders and senior leaders consider hiring on older, more experienced employees, many of whom may have simply been phased out of their industries due to downsizing and cost cutting measures, for the leadership they may naturally bring. “A lot of people 55 and older would love to work with startups. They bring decades of experience and would be excellent mentors.”
Grossman emphasizes that positive and nurturing support will go a long way toward building better leaders. “The best way to create leaders is not to throw them into the lion’s den but build their leadership skills up.”