Ben Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, tells the story of having an epiphany in the mid-point of his career. He says it suddenly occurred to him that “the conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound. He depends for his power on his ability to awaken possibilities in others.”
That is the essence of a critical truth of leadership: The success of those who report to you is now the litmus test of your success.You are not a leader if not one follows you. You are not a successful leader if those who follow you are ineffective.
I have never really understood the tendency some managers have to chronically complain about the performance of a direct report without realizing that chronic underperformance is as much a comment on the success of that manager as it is about the staff person.
Just as you are not a perfectly developed and self-actualized human, neither are those who work for you. They need to be guided and developed, which is why they have you.
So to respond to their areas of weakness or needed growth with passive complaint makes no sense.
The development of your staff is a full-time job. It ranks right up there in priority with ensuring your customers get the very best and keeping your group financially sound. It is a priority that trumps many other day-to-day activities because without proper focus on it, the results of your team are significantly diminished. And, to my point, your performance is less than effective.
How do you make sure that you are “awakening possibilities in others?”
1. You look for strengths. You see your staff as works in progress and you look for the strengths they already have that you can help them develop further.
2. You assume growth potential. No matter how tenured a person is, there are opportunities for growth. In fact, one of the keys to keeping your senior staff engaged involves finding new avenues of learning or responsibility for them.
3. You attend to passions. Whenever you notice someone getting deeply engaged or focused in an activity, you can assume there is something about that activity that is tapping into an existing passion. Growth flows most easily where there is energy.
4. You stretch folks creatively. Training classes are great as one traditional forum for development. Look for other avenues as well.Take the person along with you to a challenging customer meeting, have them present to your senior leaders, involve them in helping you solve a complicated problem.
5. You invest time. Your staff need your attention – not because they are lacking but because they are full of possibilities. Just as a plant needs sun and water, staff need the observing eye, the listening ear and the active effort of their manager to help them achieve and excel.
Developing your staff to be highly successful is not optional. Your performance is judged by it.