The One Thing Leaders Should Never Delegate

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Dan Arens Dan Arens

There is an ancient far eastern saying that goes something like this: “If you are planning for a year, plant rice. If you are planning for twenty years, grow trees. If you are planning for centuries, grow people.” In order for your company to grow, there is one thing you should never delegate.

The development of leaders should be an on-going effort for the existing leadership of any company. While the leadership style and dynamic varies from company to company, the continual leadership development of others in your organization is of paramount importance. As most leaders already know, there are only twenty four hours in a day. While leaders spend a lot of time on a lot of tasks and topics, none of them should supersede the need of mentoring, nurturing, teaching and guiding future leaders and continuing to develop them.

There is another saying, “As the leaders go, so go the people.” If the leaders are weak, they will probably develop weak leaders. To the contrary, if the support staff of the leader is weak, the probability is very high that the leader is will be weak also. In this scenario, something has to bring about change. Usually, that is the job of THE leader of the organization.

Larry Bossidy, in an article for the Harvard Business School, made many observations about leadership development. When he was at Allied Signal, one of his development tools was, quite  simply, to be certain that up and coming leaders took on many different roles on the road to greater responsibilities.

As Bossidy stated his leadership team was weak. “It wasn’t up to par with our competitors, and we were unlikely to produce future leaders because we didn’t have any bench strength.” So Bossidy did what any leader/CEO would do in a situation like that, he proceeded to remake the company by developing an outstanding management group. In the process of remaking Allied Signal, he made a number of observations regarding leadership development.

He was very active in the hiring of executive talent for the organization. “I knew the standard I set would be implemented in the rest of the organization: you hire a good person, they will hire a good person.”

Further, he developed a short list of four leadership traits to look for when developing others.

First, he looked for a person who had the ability to execute. Many people can express big picture ideas, but the real leader will be dogged in their determination to execute on not only the big ideas, but the everyday issues that come up.

Secondly, he looked for leaders who had plenty of “career runway” remaining. Bossidy did not want his company to necessarily be the last stop for someone. “I like to hire someone for this job and also the next job, never for the person’s final position,” he said.

Third, Bossidy wanted team players. No ‘solo’ standouts needed to apply. The right person needed to be “able to work through and with other people, he’s got better potential than if he is essentially an individual contributor.”

Finally, Allied Signal would intentionally place people in different business units, industries or companies, giving them profit and loss responsibility. His contention is that these multiple experiences helped build their skill sets for future assignments.

While most every executive who has ever been in any kind of leadership position has had many bad experiences in attempting to develop others, the key point of those learning experiences is just that; did the executive learn something from the mistake or not? This is yet another key developmental tool for leaders; learning from their mistakes. As Bossidy stated “When you make a mistake, the most important thing is to take corrective action. You have to give everyone a fair chance- talk through problems with them, for example, or bring in executive coaches. But if it doesn’t work out quickly, fix it before it makes a lasting impact on the organization.

Italian writer and philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli made a very wise observation about leadership development. He said, “The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” Leadership growth can easily be a synergistic kind of thing. Where good quality leaders feed off of each other and create a synergy (where the whole of the organization is greater than the sum of its’ parts) in the company that results in taking the  organization to the next level of growth.

Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor.

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