Leadership Isn’t About Being First

by Sharlyn Lauby on February 21, 2012

I love sharing with you guys some of the offbeat comments I see in my Twitter stream.  Here’s another one for the books:

Leadership is about going first!

I get the point on some level. Leaders should be able to chart the course.  The “lead” in leadership implies some level of being first.  But the reality is sometimes leaders should go last.  Let me tell you a story from a previous life.

I was a part of a management team that, prior to the company’s annual strategy session, the CEO and COO would leadership, leaders, managers, management, skills, strategybreak managers into work groups and give them a company problem to solve. What you were assigned had absolutely nothing to do with your job title. In fact, one year I was on a team to figure out what happened to luggage when it went missing at the airport. (oh the stories…)

It was our responsibility to work together in researching the issue, brainstorm possible solutions, formulating a recommendation and presenting it at the strategy session. The CEO and COO, along with the rest of the management team, would listen to our presentation and recommendation. They asked questions and then voted whether or not to proceed with the group’s recommendation.

In this case, our leaders – being the CEO and COO – weren’t first. They could have easily developed an agenda for the strategy meeting that involved them telling the rest of us their vision for the company and our role in making the mission possible. It would have been enlightening, energizing and educational.

Instead they said, “You guys are going to be responsible for making these things happen for our company. So you tell us what you see and how we should fix it. We’re not going to let you fail. So if we think your assumptions are wrong or your recommendation is off…we’re gonna tell you. But since you have to fix it, let’s hear your take on the solution.”

My story can be easily translated to the high performing team. They know what to do and how to do it. Our role as a leader isn’t to be first. It’s to support the team.

It also applies on an individual level. Think of how leaders develop their employees. If the leader is always first, it doesn’t allow anyone else to be. Many times we need to let our future leaders go first so they can develop their skills.

Leadership isn’t about being first. It’s about knowing when to go first and when to let others go first. A subtle distinction but an oh so important one.

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