Leadership is often defined as the capacity to lead. Though this definition describes the actions of an individual in a leadership position, it does not provide any insight on what makes a good leader. Though there are hundreds of books and guides that provide steps to becoming a better leader, I believe that true leadership is more than leading and getting the job done. It’s a tool for the success of others and the sustainability of our actions.
We operate in an environment in which the only constant is change: change in situation, change in location, change in people and change in leadership. It is for this reason current and future success depends on the ability of leaders to not only deliver clear and concise orders but to take the time to involve and explain the process to those around them. This involvement isn’t about decreasing responsibility, being inclusive, or training our replacement. It’s a strategy for sustainability.
Our people and their capability are what lead us to success. By exposing them to the bigger picture we further develop their reasoning skills and understanding. This investment in the individual is what leads to the sustainability of success because, despite the changes in environment or situation, they will be equipped to accomplish the mission.
Though this approach seems simple and straight forward, it takes discipline and dedication to undertake it. This is the case for two main reasons — time and human nature. There is no doubt giving an order and demanding compliance is faster, however, this approach takes away from the learning ability of every obstacle we encounter not only for the leader but for all those involved in the process. By explaining the thought process behind a decision you are building connections within the individual, which heightens their ability to reason and understand complex situations. This is a key contributor to enabling our people to make smarter cognitive decisions and not automatic completion of task requirements.
Discussing the bigger picture allows the individual to understand the circumstances that surrounded the tasking. This empowers the individual to make relevant decisions when the circumstances aren’t the same. These abilities are what lead to innovation and outside the box thinking, key attributes of stellar performers.
The second hindrance to this approach is the innate necessity of humans to feel needed. There is an abundance of psychological literature that discusses the need to belong as an innate characteristic of human nature. Aiming to be replaceable almost seems counterproductive. Perhaps that is the hardest part of being a leader, going against human nature and putting yourself second — second to the mission, second to your people – second, not first.
The reality is that true sustainability of success does not depend on one individual. Sustainability of success will only occur when we invest in our people and provide them with the appropriate cognitive tools to reason and innovate.