Who Are You Developing?

I’ve been ruminating lately on one of the leadership fundamentals that The Leadership Challenge authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have found in their research, which is simply this: leadership is a relationship.  

What makes our relationships, and thus, our leadership thrive? I find, both personally and professionally, that I am drawn to those people who are committed to helping me become the best version of myself that I can be. Those people invest their time, energy, and resources in me. They care deeply about seeing me succeed and make the best contribution I can to my family, my company, and the world. I trust these people implicitly and believe they have my best interest at heart. Theirs is the stuff solid relationships are made of. Because of the value they bring to my life, I find myself inspired to be that same kind of person for others. 

In The Leadership Challenge, Jim and Barry share some research which says “developing others has been shown to be the competency most frequently found among those at the top of their field.” Wow. Let that sink in a minute.Truly successful leaders (and human beings) are those who focus on developing others—not just themselves. This is powerful. But, if we are honest with ourselves, it brings up the tension that exists within us as part of our human nature: “But what if the people we develop get ahead of us and become more successful than we are?” 

This very issue came up recently at a Leadership Challenge® Workshop I facilitated for the National Association of Indian Nurses of America. We were going through participants’ Leadership Practices Inventory® reports and focusing on leadership behavior #29: “Ensures that people grow in their jobs by learning new skills and developing themselves.” Members of the group were sharing how culturally, in India, employees don’t typically invest in others because jobs are scarce and it’s an extremely competitive landscape. People are more likely to hold their knowledge and expertise close to the chest in an effort to preserve their own status and positions.

Although the context may be a little different in the U.S., I think we sometimes share that same internal struggle. We want to see other people succeed, but there’s that nagging fear that someone may become more successful than us if we’re too generous in sharing our time, knowledge, and expertise. This type of thinking is rooted in a scarcity mindset—that there’s not enough to go around—so we are tempted to hold back what we can truly offer others in an effort to protect ourselves.  

People who are committed to cultivating solid, trust-based relationships with those they lead must simply set that fear aside and live out of the belief that there is a direct connection between our contribution to other people’s success and our own. We must have a vision for our own ceilings to become the floors that the people we are developing will someday stand on. Relationships flourish when people sense that we are authentically investing in them— not to get something from them but simply to see them reach their highest potential.  

This type of leadership is sorely missing in today’s culture. Leaders who fully embrace this as part of their leadership philosophy automatically stand out from everyone else because it is such a rarity. People flock to leaders who genuinely care about and are truly committed to seeing others become all they can be, even if it means those people someday surpass them in some way. A true leader will see that as a job well done, not as a threat or disappointment.   

What could our work environments look like if we committed to creating open, generous relationships where a focus on developing others becomes our hallmark? Spend some time today thinking about who you can invest in and develop—someone out there needs what you have to offer in order to reach their full potential! 

Amy Savage is co-founder and managing partner of Fine Points, a Leadership Challenge® Global Training Partner that is committed to helping others increase their influence by changing their leadership behavior. She is a Wiley Certified LPI® Coach and Leadership Challenge® facilitator, and a Certified Master-in-Training of The Leadership Challenge with 15 years of experience working with the content.  Amy is passionate about personal and organizational transformation, and can be reached at amy.savage@finepointspro.com with any comments or questions.
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