Leaders today need to not only develop loyal and committed followers, but they also need to ‘unleash other leaders’ who can drive various critical tasks.
Leadership in this scenario is not about the great skills and talents of ‘the leader,’ but the collective strengths and talents of the leaders and the followers, who variously lead and follow at times in a dynamic dance. Leadership is a group performance, not a solo act.
If you don’t unleash other leaders, you will not only underachieve—you will be overwhelmed and overworked. You will be trapped in ‘busyness,’ with more work and stress.
Unleashing other leaders means empowering them to lead without micromanaging them. It means giving them an automatic license to lead by the shared values (which are collaboratively set). When you unleash other leaders, you boost team performance, lighten your workload, and get more initiative, innovation, engagement, and commitment from people.
Everyone has the capability to lead at work if they so choose, because they already lead in many areas of their lives: in their families and with nonprofits, sports teams, places of worship, neighborhood groups, and more. Leading is not the sole purview of top authorities; such a view greatly limits what teams can accomplish. Some people are born with traits that facilitate their leadership abilities, but anyone can lead if they choose—and everyone can improve and develop their leadership skills. Of course, some people will choose to follow, and they are also very important.
You can unleash other leaders by collaboratively eliciting shared values among your associates while establishing clear boundaries and goals. We recommend setting the overarching aim of being an excellent, ethical, and enduring organization (what we call a ‘triple crown organization,’ or one that has a culture of character and high performance and where everyone is empowered to be stewards of that culture).
When unleashing other leaders, work to inspire and encourage their unique leadership style. While we believe everyone in the organization should be aligned to the same shared purpose, values, and vision, and leaders must be prepared to flex their leadership approach to the situation and people (what we call ‘steel and velvet’), we also note that one of the best things emerging leaders can do is to develop self-awareness and a clearer sense of their own leadership approach based on their personal strengths and values. As leadership guru Warren Bennis has said, “Letting the self emerge is the essential task for leaders.”
Unleash the latent leadership and innovation throughout the organization, giving people an automatic license to lead by the shared values and encouraging all to become stewards of the quest to become excellent, ethical, and enduring. This changes everyone’s role.
To do this, you will have to exemplify the type of leadership you want to see in the organization. You will have to coach your team members on their leadership, giving them freedom to try new approaches to achieve the goals you set together. As you coach them, check in with them often, ask questions, and allow them to discover their own answers. Offer them clear, prompt, and constructive feedback—including both what they are doing well and what they can improve. Remove roadblocks, encourage them, and recognize their efforts, progress, and accomplishments. Leadership is best learned through practice, ideally with stretch assignments, feedback, and coaching.
Insecure leaders fear they will lose control by unleashing other leaders, but such control is an illusion. By guiding and inspiring other leaders, you will enhance your leadership and position your organization for sustainable high performance. You will become a leader of leaders, not just a leader of followers.
Are you unleashing other leaders?
Gregg Vanourek is a high-impact executive, leadership developer, and award-winning author helping you lead yourself, lead others, and lead change. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs (a manifesto for integrating life and work with purpose and passion), co-authored with Christopher Gergen, and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (called “the best leadership book since Good to Great”), co-authored with his father, Bob Vanourek.