This article was initially published on Forbes.com.
In my last post, I introduced you to the five key skills of a co-creative leader. I also went into more detail around the skill of being a voice among many in the conversation. This article is the second in a series on co-creative leadership. In it, we will explore the next key skill, which is how co-creative leaders unleash the leaders around them.
Why we need to unleash leaders
In many organizations, hierarchy plays a big role in how people act and how much initiative they take. In these same places, many people confuse the notions of management and leadership. I often observe the belief that managers are leaders by default, but this is not always true.
Management is often a figure of authority. People are promoted to or hired as managers, and their teams have no choice in the matter. On the other hand, leadership is more akin to getting permission from people to lead them. Not all managers do what is necessary to earn this permission to lead from their teams.
Think back for a moment to your professional experiences and think of everyone you know with amazing leadership outside the office. Were these people allowed to be leaders inside the workplace too? Often, you may find the answer is: it depends on their title. When this is the case, the company is creating dormant leaders without even realizing it.
When people start working somewhere, they often have a sense of excitement. They are lit up and want to make a difference. What happens though is that companies push people to fit a certain mould. This can be a good thing, as you want your hire to fit in the company, but it can also snuff their drive as they learn to comply. This is why co-creative leaders need to unleash the leaders around them.
Unleash leaders by encouraging initiative
Take a look at your own team for a moment. Does it feel like people need to ask you for permission before doing anything? Do you ever have people ask you something and you find yourself thinking: “Why are they asking me this? They don’t need my permission to do this.” Hierarchy and a prevalent culture of command and control create this behaviour. In some cultures, people do not want blame, so they ask permission for everything instead.
Let me guess—you may be thinking right now: “What if I know something as a manager they do not? I would rather they come speak to me first.” This is true and it is a subtle form of control, as well. What is the worst that could happen in the majority of cases?
I am not suggesting that you let people do anything and everything. That is the other end of the spectrum. The invitation here is to empower your team on the small things first—those things I mentioned earlier that have you wondering why they are asking you in the first place.
Here is a story that may help you. A few years ago, in a yearly review meeting, my boss at the time gave me an interesting piece of feedback. I was new in my role, negotiating contracts with clients, so I would often go talk to him about it before I made a decision. He asked me why I was pulling him into these discussions. Was it for permission or to bounce ideas off him? He told me he felt I was making the right decisions, so I did not need permission. He also said he was always ready for me to bounce ideas off of him, but I needed to make the right request from him.
Unleash leaders by seeing leadership potential
Take a good look at everyone in your team or organization. What do you see? Make a list of the people that have the most leadership qualities or potential. For each of them, reflect on what you are currently doing to allow them to make the most of their leadership. If your answer is “nothing” or “not much,” why is that?
Start thinking about how you can help each of these people be the leaders you see they can be. You can start to do this by having regular conversations with them. Let them know what you see in them and create opportunities for them to build confidence.
Unleash leaders by empowering people
Many of us can confuse the notion of empowering people with giving them a title. This leads right back to the hierarchy notion we spoke about earlier.
Empowering people means identifying what is holding them back, and removing these obstacles. It means helping them see a larger sandbox in which they can play. It also means giving them the courage to step into their leadership. For some, this can take time, while for others, it will be a quick and easy process. Give your team members the time and space they need to learn and grow into their leadership.
Unleash leaders by sharing the leadership space
The biggest challenge is accepting that there can be many leaders on a team and not competing for that role. Leadership is something you can share or even pass around to others. Good leaders know when to lead and they also know when and how to follow.
Think about those meetings in your workplace where many strong personalities clash together. Often, what is happening in the group dynamics is that people are not giving permission to others to lead. In cases like this, try giving someone permission to lead out loud and see the difference it makes.
The point is that leaders are not afraid to create leaders around them. This is what this skill is all about: seeing the people that feel shackled and helping them break loose.
Now, tell me, how do you unleash the leaders around you?