Leaders not infrequently come to us with the complaint, “I’m the only one around here who thinks strategically. I’m the only one coming up with new ideas and innovations. I am so frustrated!”
Believe us, that frustration is shared by those leaders’ followers … because the root of the issue does not lie in the followers not having the capacity to strategize and innovate – it lies in the leaders not empowering their followers to realize their full potential.
Leaders who express this complaint are often dominant personalities characterized by robust confidence, high intelligence, strategic brilliance, and a flawless work ethic. The problem is that such dominant personalities can easily influence the corporate culture. Without intending it, they become the de facto “go-to” person for all decisions, answers, and ideas. Everybody under them takes a passive role. Make no mistake – these teams can be outstandingly productive with great execution, but there is one and only one leader. Everybody else is a follower.
This leader-centric, follower-heavy culture is self-perpetuating. Followers who could become leaders in their own right become frustrated and leave because they find their growth potential stifled. Followers who have no desire to lead are satisfied with the status quo because they can execute to their heart’s content with no pressure to do anything out of their comfort zone. The end result is that the business cannot scale effectively because the burden of leadership is all on the single dominant leader’s shoulders.
For this reason, one of a leader’s primary tasks is to replicate him or herself so that the business can scale and grow. John Maxwell described this perfectly in The Law of Explosive Growth, one of his 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. He writes:
“Any leader who [practices the Law of Explosive Growth] makes the shift from follower’s math to what I call leader’s math. Here’s how it work. Leaders who develop followers grow their organization only one person at a time. But leaders who develop leaders multiply their growth, because for every leader they develop, they also receive all of that leader’s followers. Add ten followers to your organization, and you have the power of ten people. Add ten leaders to your organization, and you have the power of ten leaders times all the followers and leaders they influence. That’s the difference between addition and multiplication. It’s like growing your organization by teams instead of by individuals. The better the leaders you develop, the greater the quality and quantity of followers.”
We need to be clear that developing leaders is not simply a matter of delegation. Delegation is part of the development process, but it is not the only part. Here are three critical actions leaders need to take to replicate themselves and create a cadre of leaders who can scale the business successfully:
1. Move away from siloed thinking to strategic thinking.
Dominant leaders typically choose followers who are very good at their jobs. However, these followers most often work in a siloed manner, without insight into how the entire enterprise fits together – that knowledge and understanding resides only with the dominant leader.
To move away from this siloed thinking that restricts business growth, the dominant leader needs to coach his or her followers in strategic thinking. The leader needs to clearly show, for instance, how sales and operations fit together, how sales and finance interact, how sales and IT are dependent upon one another, etc.
- Multiple tactics can help accomplish this. The leader can:
- Have meetings with all functions represented and encourage members to express their diverse perspectives.
- Use his or her own decisions as teaching moments, explaining how he or she arrived at a certain decision by leveraging an enterprise viewpoint.
- Dialogue with people one-on-one, asking questions to help them refine their strategic skills.
2. Move away from passive dependency to active autonomy.
Because dominant leaders unwittingly create dependent followers, it is crucial to intentionally help people make the shift to autonomy. To do so, the leader needs to give followers responsibility over not just tasks to execute, but initiatives to lead. It can be helpful if these initiatives have a cross-functional element that requires strategic thinking. It is also beneficial if the initiatives are a bit of a stretch for the person so as to encourage growth.
Then, the leader must set clear expectations and empower the person with the authority to do the job. The leader should remain available for coaching, but should not tell the person what to do – that is “swoop and snatch” delegation and is to be avoided at all costs.
3. Move away from “here’s my solution” to “give me your solution.”
When a person is a dominant leader, their followers learn to lean on them. They go to the leader with a need and they get an idea. They go with an issue and they get an innovation. They go with a problem and they get a solution.
Dominant leaders must create a culture where this type of passivity is unacceptable. They should communicate to their followers that a problem can only be presented if it is accompanied by a proposed solution. Ideas and innovations from the follower must be an integral part of any conversation about needs or issues.
Then, of course, it is imperative to use the solutions, ideas, and innovations that come from the follower. A leader can certainly ask questions to help refine and hone what the follower presents, but it is vital that the follower’s input is honored. That is key to turning followers into leaders in their own right.
As dominant leaders model this type of behavior – encouraging strategic thinking, active autonomy, and a “give me your solution” approach – they will replicate themselves by developing leaders who can take the business to greater heights. And the best part is that those new leaders will have a blueprint for replicating themselves, paving the way for explosive growth.