A key part of a leader’s job is to develop the leadership talent that exists within the people working in the organization. As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook describes it, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”
So, how does a leader make others better so that the impact lasts?
This is a challenge because most organizations, large and small, are organized for operational efficiency, rather than employee engagement. Even organizations that talk-the-talk of engagement and empowerment struggle to accomplish this noble outcome. This is, in part, due to the inertia of organizational structures, which push decision control up into the hands of upper management and often undermine innovation and decision-making on the front lines. In typical organizations information flows up the org chart and decisions flow down. This structure rewards managers for control but suffocates leadership development in the junior ranks. It stifles innovation and creativity, exposing the organization to the risks of stagnation and obsolescence.
Here is a leadership paradox: Relinquishing control of decision-making enables greater leadership power over accomplishing the strategic objectives. The best ideas rarely come from the executive offices! They often come from the front lines of an organization, from those involved in the production process or with client interactions who, as a result of their experiences, ask, “how can we do this better” and then they come up with a solution. Smart leaders cultivate and nurture this kind of innovation and decision-making. They accept the risk that some decisions will be wrong, knowing that many will add significant value. They understand that without some failure, there is no success.
The leader’s role is to create a safe space for innovation and good decision-making while mitigating the risks with appropriate training and effective employee-centred coaching and development. The quality of trust within the leader/team member relationship is a key element for successfully engaging decision-making with team members.
When leaders work to “make others better” by sharing decision-making with team members they strengthen their leadership influence and relationship. In return, they benefit from the strengthened commitment and engagement of those individuals. Sharing decision-making is one way that a leader’s impact lasts even when the leader is absent.