Our society has glorified the lone wolf leader – the idea that one person, alone, can solve all of your business problems – for far too long.
Our business challenges are too big for one person; we need all team members, committed and aligned to the same goal, to achieve next-level results.
Businesses need a new rubric for how they approach leadership development. They need to abandon the lone wolf metaphor and embrace a “Leaders at All Levels” mindset. They can start with the simple recognition that leadership isn’t about positional authority. It’s about an individual’s ability to influence outcomes and inspire others, something everyone, at any organizational level, can do.
This “Leaders at All Levels” mindset was what I learned during my time in the Marine Corps. During my thousands of hours of instruction, it was reinforced to me that the collective performance of a team – not the solo acts of an individual – were necessary to achieve transformative results. Leadership was never about rank; it was always about any individual’s actions. I carried this mindset into the private sector, where I democratized leadership among the teams I led and, in return, we reached new heights of success.
I now help businesses build development experiences where they learn how to decentralize leadership and, in return, empower individuals at every level to make decisions, lead up with recommendations, and deliver necessary feedback that saves time and money.
Regardless of your role in an organization, you can learn how to inspire greater leadership from your colleagues and the teams you either lead or are a part of. Here are three practices that you can demonstrate to build leaders at every level.
- Differentiate between leadership and management skills. Leadership and management are commonly confused and often used interchangeably as if they mean the same thing. These are two distinctly different skill sets. Management is about things – processes, procedures, staffing, budgets. Managers are also defined on organizational charts. They serve very important roles in regard to organizational efficiency and goal achievement.
Leadership is different. As mentioned above, it’s about an individual’s ability to influence outcomes and inspire others. When professionals at every level of the organization know they’re leaders, and begin to build the skills commensurate with leadership, they start to see themselves as part of the solution. Through time, they begin to understand the stronger connection between their role and organizational results, helping them feel empowered to do more than their job description and act in the best interest of the business.
- Introduce leadership skills during onboarding. When new hires come onboard, this is the best place to set clear expectations for performance. Beyond orientating these individuals to processes and procedures that are important to the organization, and key highlights in the employee handbook, it’s important to share with them how they can participate in the “Leaders at All Levels” culture. Be clear with them what leadership looks like, particularly the competencies like taking initiative, anticipating the questions and needs of others, not making people have to ask for help, and understanding what their decision-making lane is. This level of clarity primes the individual to recognize that they’re more than an employee: they’re a valued team member whose actions are connected to those around them.
- Reinforce what leadership looks like at every level. There are three different domains of leadership, which often connect to the role an individual has in an organization: Self-Leadership, Team Leadership, and Enterprise Leadership. Each domain has respective skills that help that individual be influential and inspirational in their work environment and in regard to their role. For those who lead themselves, like individual contributors, time management, creative problem solving, and initiative-taking are key skills to build. For the team leader, who’s likely a manager or a supervisor, learning how to coach and develop others is an important skillset, as is delegating work and dealing with difficult employees. For the enterprise-level leader, the skills they need to develop include managing managers, developing a strategic perspective, and managing change.
Businesses can waste a lot of time and energy by overlooking the opportunities to develop their entire workforce’s leadership skills. This type of investment doesn’t have to be expensive, either. It just needs to be intentional. Small actions, over time, produce great results. As an added bonus, for the businesses that make the commitment to promote “Leaders at All Levels,” they discover that when their individual contributors get promoted to managerial positions, they’ve already developed the leadership skills they’ll need to see their success through other people.
Written by Courtney Lynch.
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