“To be a good leader, you sometimes need to go down the untraveled path. Being bold in the face of uncertainty will help give your team courage and motivate them to keep striving when the going gets tough.”‘
As we work to grow our people, expand the next generation of leaders, and guide those we love into the uncertain future, we must ensure they know that there are many ways to get where they are going.
The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.
My specific attention to professional development, mentoring, and succession planning have shown me that being focused on the end result is much more important than how you get there. Many companies, organizations, and businesses have established detailed programs to prepare their future leaders for the opportunities that may present themselves. There is great value and security in ensuring that the three principle elements of professional development: education, training, and experience have been included in a leader’s growth environment and formative years. We are responsible to provide and desperately need professional and prepared leaders.
One of the leadership negatives that accompany highly structured and deliberate growth programs is the loss of desire/ability to “try new things.” This can lead to trouble in a dynamic environment where leader agility, speed of action, and ability to experiment with new ideas is critical to mission success, adaptability, and organizational longevity.
Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.
Peter F. Drucker
One of the habits I picked up along the path was to be aware that there was an expected path to be followed but remain aloof enough to stay agile in the execution of my duties. When first arriving at an organization as a leader, I would always bring an empty box with me on my first day. I used this to hold the files and stuff left behind by the previous leader. These things typically were not necessary to my performance and execution of responsibilities but were important to my predecessor.
After perusing the requisite “continuity” folder and notes, I would put folders, files, and other left-behind items in the box and place it out of the way in the office. It was safe and secure and if I was stuck, lost, or could not remember how to lead, I could go to it. In more than 20 years of senior leadership roles, I never sought out the box. I saw the box as limiting, holding me to the previous leader’s path, or containing information that was dated, out of sync, or cluttering the space. What it definitely represented was “stay the course and stay on the marked trail.” I had been prepared and developed to lead organizations and people and staying on the marked trail was not part of my leader DNA. If after my first year anniversary, I had not opened the box, the contents were destined for the burn box or paper shredder.
In one of my most dynamic assignments, the outgoing leader told me that he had left everything I needed to be successful in the office. The two subordinate leaders who were remaining, told me that everything I needed was left behind in the office and that they knew everything I would need to keep things moving smoothly. I filled the box that night and also began a close observation period for the two subordinate leaders who were clearly trying to dissuade me from trying new things and thereby protecting their status quo.
My professional development, mentoring, and experience had taught me that leadership was not about staying on the marked trail and maintaining the status quo. It was about vision, execution, and being bold enough to make the right things happen for mission success.
As you prepare those around you for their leadership future, are you ensuring that in addition to the education, training, and experience elements of their development, they also pick up the agility, flexibility, and desire to stray from the marked trail as they boldly lead into the future?