You will never see “She made me what I am today” written on anyone’s tombstone. But a leader’s job is just that: identifying the individual strengths that each team member comes to the table with; coaxing, leading, training, cajoling, and developing those strengths into greatness. As a leader, you will come with specific skills and deficits; knowing both will help you help others achieve their potential.
Insecure leaders worry that a team member will overshadow them and take credit—or worse, take their job. Confident leaders give credit and are thrilled when one of their team surpasses them. It’s considered a job well done. Unfortunately, that is becoming a rarity in our culture. Leaders who fear loss of stature, importance, or position will never let others over-shadow them, yet a real leader’s job is to let all those who work for them shine as bright as they possibly can.
Everyone has gifts; some just never get a chance to open them. As a leader, making sure there is no gift left unopened is your job. Like watching a kid open the gift they asked Santa for, as a leader you will and should have that same excitement when someone on your team succeeds. It’s perfectly OK to have that moment of doubt, that quick little pang of wow, that used to be me, but if it’s more than a moment of angst, you’ve just stepped in it. It’s about them, not you.
Parents try as hard as they can to pave the road for their children and make it as easy as possible to succeed. Unfortunately, as well-intended as this may be, it does not always work out. If the child never learns how to solve a problem, they will lash out when faced with one and wait for someone else to fix it rather than try to fix it themselves. Leaders often try to make it easy for their teams to succeed, fixing mistakes or telling them what path to take. Individuals will only find their own leadership style and gifts by doing it themselves—mistakes and all. The leader’s job is to make sure none of the mistakes are fatal. Skinned knees and broken bones may happen, and from these people will learn how to self-correct. Patience is a requirement of the leader when developing people, as is having the fortitude to NOT cover the kids in bubble wrap to keep them from getting hurt.
Gifting greatness is not only recognizing the unique contributions of everyone on the team but also being a model of what good leadership looks like. Words and actions must be consistent and authentic—do what you say you will do, model what you want in your team. Everyone smells BS. No matter the deodorizer you choose to cover it, BS still stinks.
When a leader makes a mistake, it needs to be acknowledged, not covered up. “There is learning in them there hills,” as they say—no screwup is made without a chance to learn, and a good leader shows the way by owning it. Give your team a model they can start with and make their own. Only then will their greatness, not yours, find a voice.