Leadership That Grows Up

Leaders get into the work with people. They don’t shut themselves away behind closed doors.

Recently I finished a bathroom remodel, and it was a real learning experience. I would never have started this project if it weren’t for a neighbor who is a general contractor. After hearing me talk about this bathroom for almost a year, he showed up with a sledge hammer one day and said, “would you like to do the honors?”

“You mean, just hit it?” I asked.

“Yep,” he replied. “I’ve learned that if you don’t get in there with people, the work will never get started. Not to mention, get finished.” After two weeks of demolition and a few weeks of putting the bathroom back together, the project got done. My neighbor Jonathan did most the work along side of me and I learned so much along the way.

Great Leaders
Great leadership looks kind of like what I just described—it means getting in there with people in an ongoing way to make sure the work gets done. This is how we build trust. In my work with teams, I’ve seen that leaders who need the most help struggle in this one area.

Most of these folks are good hearted people who wrongly assume that people will be inspired by the vision, and go figure out what to do. But it doesn’t work that way. People need support structures. Like my neighbor showed up with tools and knowledge, so too, leaders need to put proactive support structures in place so people can be at their best, and do their best work.

The Work of a Leader
In general, we could describe the work of a leader as setting vision, culture and strategy. The best companies among us have leaders like that at the helm. But outsiders looking in wrongly assume that this is where the work stops. In addition to the work of a leader, we’ve got to learn the ongoing work of a leader. We might call this, “Leadership that grows up.” I say this because young leaders can bring inspiring ideas, but mature leaders know how to put systems in place to make the vision actually happen.

I want to unpack in this series of blogs on the proactive support structures needed in every healthy organization, and on every team. Here are, what I would call, five trust-building support systems:

  1. Discovery (of stories, strengths and shared strategy)
  2. Assessment (of team health & metrics of success)
  3. Care (for individual team members & group morale)
  4. Training (in areas related to accomplishing the strategy & areas of deficiency)
  5. Coaching (around qualitative and quantitative improvements)

My aim in writing this series is to add value to the leaders among us who want to take things to the next level. Some leaders may be strong in one of these five systems more than the other. My goal is to help you get strong in each area.

In a world where people think trust is something that’s earned, I want to share a different picture. Trust isn’t primarily earned. Rather, trust is developed. The leader sets the pace for the team and organization by how they get in there with the people in the ongoing work.

Here’s what’s coming next: How to discover the best in your team, build trust and design a winning strategy. But when I say a winning strategy, I mean more than a plan. More to come next week.