Leadership is hard work. It takes making accurate decisions based often on inaccurate or incomplete data. It requires bringing about change and contending with the resistance that it prompts. It requires caring about those you lead, but remaining objective enough not to get swayed by peoples’ sucking-up. It takes having a thick enough skin to weather the unending second-guessing and Monday-morning-quarterbacking of critics who assume that could do better than you.
Given how hard – and often thankless – the role of leader is, the question becomes, why do it? Why put yourself through all the hardship and criticism? The answer is found in the most satisfying result of a leader’s impact: more leadership.
For nearly two decades I’ve designed, developed, and delivered leadership and succession planning programs for emergent and experienced leaders.
One question I’ve asked thousands of leaders is this: “At the end of your leadership career, what will have made the challenge of leadership all worthwhile?”
By far the most frequent answer goes something like this: “I will have built other leaders who themselves are building other leaders.”
When done right, leadership begets more leadership. Let me give you an example. I’ve been working with a Chicago-based construction company for nearly ten years. I helped the company launch a leadership succession program to help develop the bench strength of the company’s next generation of leaders. In the decade since the program launched, many participants have moved up the ranks into senior leadership positions. I’ve literally watched people transform from just-out-of-college rookies to thoughtful business-minded leaders.
The best part of leading is bringing out the leader in others. Last week I led a strategic planning offsite with my Chicago client. As each of the transformed leaders forecasted the strategic outlook for their respective divisions, many of us grey-haired folks in the room swelled with pride. We knew their starting point. We had watched them grow from awkward or falsely-confident green-beans to comfortable-in-their-skin leaders.
Always remember that leadership is a privilege. When you’re in a leadership role, your influence may impact the trajectory of peoples’ entire career (and often life). When you do it right, you create a legacy of other leaders who can bring their goodness into the world.
Here are some tips for helping build a leadership legacy:
- Know Thy Leadership Self – Give some thought to the leader you aim to become, and the mark you hope to leave on others.
- List Your Leaders – List the leaders who have most impacted you. What positive parts of their leadership do you carry with you in your thoughts and behaviors?
- Seek Feedback – Invite people to share their perspective on your leadership. Send people a simple email asking them what it’s like to work with you, how they would describe your leadership style, and what leadership behaviors are most noticeable.
- Show Gratitude – Say thank you frequently and sincerely. Let people know that you don’t take the privilege of leading others for granted. Leadership is an honor, so be honorable.
To lead is to apply the best of yourself in order to get others to apply the best of themselves. The dividend of great leadership is more great leadership.