“Knowledge is power”
“One to grow on”
“The more you know”
From Francis Bacon to public service announcements, knowing things has always seemed like the secret to success for me. As a student, I had wonderful teachers. When I first entered the workforce, I noticed that my bosses who had everything under control also had an easy confidence – they knew everything about their business. During my time in the military, the NCOs and officers whom I admired always had the right answer to whatever it was we were doing. These were the kinds of leaders who left a mark on me.
That must be it. Knowledge is the key. Want to be a great leader, in whatever you’re doing? It’s all about knowing things.
When I was hired into my first leadership role after the military, I was determined to be the kind of leader I admired. I would be that person standing at the front with all of the answers and unwavering confidence. I did everything I could to get the answers – to know things.
So after the first survey of my folks, I was disappointed to learn that although I was working hard to know things it wasn’t translating to effective leadership. I was making progress at having the answers but it was clear my people weren’t seeing me as the kind of leader I wanted to be. When my boss came to visit the next time we sat down to talk about the survey results.
Larry was a great boss. He was a great person to help me make the transition from military to civilian life. He’d been a naval officer before joining the civilian corporate world. He laid it out plainly. I was not getting it done as a leader. Then he gave me the best advice anyone has ever given me to help me become the most effective leader I can be.
Teach your people to take your job away from you.
Knowledge, I came to understand, is not reduced by being shared. It spreads. It multiplies. And in doing so, it makes for stronger teams.
I approached work as if someone had removed blinders from my eyes. Things clicked. My job became growing as a leader by helping my people grow into their own potential. Learn something new that helped me? I couldn’t wait to share it. Here – look what someone showed me! See how much easier this is? You try it. Great, right?
I was transformed. Invigorated. And I found what would become a passion for me in my career. Helping people develop. This was my new religion and I approached it as fervently as any convert.
Magically, my team got stronger. (Of course, it wasn’t magic. But for me, then, it might as well have been.) We got better results. My folks were more engaged. I experienced the magic I was aspiring to. I became a leader in deed as well as name.
I’m sure that anyone who has worked in a leadership position has plenty of tough stories. The bureaucratic drag of the administration of human resources. The unforgettable instances in which a leader had to fire someone. I see these pieces as the other side of the coin, the karmic balance against the very best part of the job of leading people.
When I talk about leadership I go to my happy moments as a leader. I have been privileged to help people get to better places. I’m proud to have helped someone take a step up. Those moments when someone on my team has succeeded and differentiated themselves based on their performance – if I helped someone get there then I hold onto those moments. Those are my magic experiences as a leader. They make all of the disheartening scenarios nothing more than passing memories.
And it all started with giving things away as fast as I could teach them.
Knowledge IS power – and when you share it, knowledge becomes even more powerful.
So teach your people to take your job away from you.
[NOTE: I wrote this piece five years ago for inclusion in the book One Word: Stories of Influence, Enlightenment, and Hope. I thought I shared it here at the time but apparently I did not. With my new work focused on leadership development and coaching, I think it’s the perfect opportunity to share!]