It all started when I was in my mid twenties. That was when I first experienced the reality that I can’t do it all myself. Actually, I’m sure I experienced this fact much earlier in life but I was too young and arrogant to admit it. Anyway, I remember specifically feeling the need for more leaders. Without new leaders it seemed that every solution to my leadership problems was short lived. No, I needed long-term solutions.
So I picked up a John Maxwell book on developing leaders and I was hooked. Developing Leaders was what my life was going to be about.
The problem was that as good as the books and seminars were there was one variable that no theory or principle could prepare me for. People. People are not very predictable nor did they cooperate with what I wanted them to do. So as I aspired to develop leaders I made every mistake that you could possibly make.
Here are three of my biggest blunders … and three common mistakes when developing leaders.
- I told people what to do. Leadership needs to provide direction but I took it too the nth degree. The picture I had of leadership was one that had all the answers and all I needed to do was exert authority over people and they would fall in line. It was a hard lesson for me to learn that even if people worked for me, they were never going to develop in their leadership if all I ever did was tell them what to do. Not only were they not going to develop as leaders but they were also going to stop following me. People are brilliant. The last thing they needed was a leader that treated them as if they never knew what to do. Telling people what to do was not a long-term solution to my need for developing leaders.
- I assumed that people were intellectually motivated. Silly, actually. Vision motivates people because it inspires and stimulates emotion. The same is true in developing leaders. So much of my early leadership days were filled with preparing the logical steps of what leaders should do without ever addressing their feelings. Hindsight what it is, I look back and realize that people step up when they understand and are compelled by something that addresses their feelings. Injustice, making a difference, working together, etc. – all of these things are emotionally inspiring; even to the most intellectual of us. Persuading people to do things based on logic was not a long-term solution to the need for developing leaders.
- I assumed that people would do what they said they would do. A year into developing leaders I almost gave up. You know why? I was so mad at the lack of follow through that I just wanted to do it all myself. In a sense, I expected these great people to be perfect. It never crossed my mind to establish accountability. My job at the time dealt with many volunteer leaders with other responsibilities which created obstacles to what it was that we were trying to accomplish. So instead of creating accountability and clear communication I pouted. Assuming that the right things will happen was not a long-term solution for developing leaders.
So, what did I learn? One lesson that keeps coming back to me is that if I really want to develop leaders I might need to treat them as I want to be treated.
What if instead of telling people what to do I had learned to ask questions first and then give input? That’s what I want when someone is developing me.
What if, instead of appealing to others’ logic, I addressed the real purpose behind our efforts and let people engage their emotions? That’s what I want when someone is leading me.
What if I patiently held people accountable and let them see how their actions (or lack thereof) are important? That’s what I want when someone is leading me.
Maybe Jesus knew what he was saying as recorded in the book of Matthew 7:12
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…”
Sounds like a long-term solution to me.