When I ask the question, “What is the single most important function of a leader?” I get a variety of responses:
- To make critical decisions
- To have a vision and move people toward the vision
- To build a culture
- To explore and discover new ideas and concepts
- To promote specific goals and values
What is the most important role of a leader? Given that leaders need to lead others, let’s agree that a leader’s most important role is to find a way to get the best out of each person on their team. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the most important role of a leader is to build other leaders.
The most important role of leaders is to build other leaders?!
Hold on a minute!
Why would a leader work hard at building other leaders? What incentive do they have to deliberately build the leadership skills of other individuals who could potentially rise up and push them off their throne?
The answer is simple. Great leaders know that in order to reach significant goals, they cannot do it alone. They must surround themselves with other great leaders.
In order to make that happen, many leaders take it upon themselves to coach and mentor their team members. Unfortunately, while their intentions may be purely positive, they often make critical mistakes in the process.
1. Fixing Weakness
As leaders, it’s hard to ignore a problem. When something is off, we are hard-wired to zero in on the problem with the intention of addressing the weakness. We are often so laser-focused on helping someone overcome their weakness that we miss the opportunities that lie before us.
The Alternative: Focusing on Strengths
Asking a team member to do something that is absolutely not in their skill set is like asking a frog to fly. It’s futile. Instead, pay attention to what skills they already bring to the table. Rather than putting them in a position that is not a fit, partner them with someone whose skills make up for their shortcomings. By focusing on your team members’ inherent strengths, you are able to set them up for consistent wins.
2. Feeling Empathy
Leaders have long been told that a critical skill they need to develop is a sense of empathy. Unfortunately, empathy in leadership can be quite risky.
Empathy is defined as stepping into another person’s shoes to feel what they are feeling. It is a purely emotional experience.
Imagine that you witness a person drowning in a pool. They are in an state of panic, distress and fear. If you apply empathy to this situation, you too would instantly feel panic, distress and fear — which would immediately disable you from helping them.
Applying this ideology to a professional setting, a leader who jumps in the pool in the name of empathy to join a struggling teammate is creating a huge risk to themselves and the organization.
The Alternative: Feeling Compassion
Does this mean that a leader should just walk by and let someone drown? Absolutely not! A leader needs to have the compassion to acknowledge that someone is in trouble and be willing to roll up their sleeves, stand firmly by the edge of the pool and pull the victim out. In order for that to happen, the leader needs to be confident that they can make a difference
3. Focusing on Behaviors
Leaders take action — that’s what they are known for. They take initiative and act when others are paralyzed. While this is a huge advantage as an executive or entrepreneur, it’s a huge disadvantage as a coach or mentor.
Why? Because while giving employees a list of actions that they should take may sound entirely reasonable, this approach overlooks the key reason that people struggle to reach their goals: their beliefs.
Plans and strategies are accessible and easy to create — the challenge is in the execution. What prevents people from taking the action they know they need to take is their beliefs about themselves and about the actions that lie before them.
The Alternative: Focusing on Beliefs
Action follows thought. So rather than directing action, great leadership digs underneath the surface of issues to identify beliefs that may be standing in the way of success. This applies to coaching up-and-coming leaders just as well as it applies to strategic decisions.
From a strategic standpoint, the idea of uncovering the beliefs that lead to various decision-making strategies also has great value. Even at a surface level, the beliefs that a team has about their resources, the competition and their capacity can have a huge impact on the decisions they make.
Effective leaders have effective coaching skills. They start by hiring a great coach so that they can experience it firsthand. They acquire coaching skills of their own. They apply what they have learned and then they stumble upon the secret of coaching: when they coach someone else, their own lives expand exponentially. It’s truly magical.