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  • Writer's pictureMike Ayers


Leaders have a choice in how they both conceive and express their leadership. First, they can see themselves as doers—that is, doing everything themselves. This approach maintains high control and insures that the way the leader wants things done is accomplished. It also limits what can be achieved to the efforts, competencies and time of the leader.

Second, leaders may delegate—that is, they can simply show and tell others what to do. Delegation is a popular idea in leadership today. While it has its place and frees the leader to do other things, it falls short in achieving the great opportunity afforded through positions of influence. Delegation also tends to create prompt-dependent people who must be given permission to act and decide.

Beyond these, leaders can see themselves as influencers who develop those they lead, i.e., helping others grow, find fulfillment and reach their full potential. This goal connects to the highest and most rewarding aspects of leading others, but also has at least three practical results: (a) more gets done, (b) people are more inspired in their work, and (c) more leaders are developed in the organization. Despite popular notions about leadership, effective leaders do not create people who are more needy and dependent upon the leader’s knowledge, direction and skills. Ultimately, good leaders create other leaders.

The obvious question is: What do good leaders do to develop others? There are three principles to consider.

Equipping. This is the knowledge dimension of development. It includes directive behaviors from leaders to followers such as teaching, training, telling, and showing. The idea here is that those we lead must develop the knowledge necessary for the tasks given to them in order to know what to do and how to do it. Today’s leaders equip others through individual “showing and telling” sessions, apprenticeships, and on-the-job mentoring. Also, leaders provide time and resources for their people to attend workshops, conferences, and seminars.

Empowering. This is the volitional dimension of development—that is, the engagement of the follower’s will to the point of action. Here, the leader seeks to deploy his or her people in doing things that fulfill needs in the organization, but also lends to their individual growth. This goes beyond merely having them listen and watch. Empowering means involving followers in action with the goal of increasing their ownership and responsibility. Empowerment might include delegation, but not merely for the purpose of relieving the leader of a task. It is delegation with the intent of increasing the skills, efficacy, and self-actualization of the individual. It is to develop followers in such a way that they are made less dependent upon the leader, to the degree that eventually they are able to do the work themselves. Here, followers are inherently motivated because they connect their knowledge to actual performance and prove themselves capable.

You’ve empowered others when three things have occurred: (1) responsibility— you get out of their way to let them act without dependence upon you. People develop best by having ownership in what they do. (2) results— they must live with the consequences of their work, whether positive or negative. You goal is to allow them to succeed or fail, and (3) reward— they receive the recognition and reward for the work they’ve been empowered to do (not you).

Leaders develop others by giving them clear responsibility (written job descriptions, goals, objectives, etc.), by permitting them to be answerable for such responsibilities, and by recognizing their achievements, ensuring that rewards for their work come back to them, not to the leader.

Encouraging. This is the emotional dimension of development. Theorists have concluded that individual change and development is much more lasting and successful when emotional and relational support are present.* Here, leaders lend supportive behaviors to those they lead—behaviors such as listening, praising, problem solving, asking for input, sharing rationale, taking an interest in their personal lives, and providing hopeful perspective when people lose heart. Such support gives those you lead the emotional resources to move past self-doubt and be willing to push beyond their limitations to develop new knowledge and skills, take on more responsibility, and grow in greater self-confidence.

In conclusion, leaders equip the head, empower the hands, and encourage the heart of those they lead. When they do, they help followers develop to their full potential personally and professionally. People under them are more fulfilled, become fruitful in work, and may become leaders themselves.

This moves the practice of leadership to its highest possible good. We go beyond being leaders who do. We go beyond being leaders of doers. We become instead leaders of leaders. In the end, leaders who equip, empower and encourage others find great personal fulfillment. They have the privilege of seeing others under them blossom and excel. They leave a legacy of grateful people who were trusted and who grew.

* See the following: Irwin G. Sarason, Barbara R. Sarason, and Edward N. Shearin, “Social support as an individual difference variable: Its stability, origins, and relational aspects.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 50(4), Apr 1986, 845–855. Wm. Matthew Bowler and Daniel J. Brass, “Relational correlates of interpersonal citizenship behavior: A social network perspective,” Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 91(1), Jan 2006, 70–82. Susan R. Madsen, Duane Miller, and Cameron R. John, “Readiness for organizational change: Do organizational commitment and social relationships in the workplace make a difference?” Human Resource Development Quarterly, Vol 16 (2), Summer 2005, 213–234.


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