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  • Writer's pictureMike Ayers


Updated: Dec 11, 2020

Leaders have a choice in how they manifest their leadership. First, they can choose to do—that is, to do everything themselves. This of course limits what can be achieved to the efforts, skills and time of the leader. Second, leaders can delegate—that is, they can tell others to do things (and most often they delegate only things they would prefer not to do). Delegation is a popular strategy in leadership today and while it frees the leader, it does not reflect the heart of true leadership. Or alternatively, leaders may choose to develop. Developing those we lead involves first seeing potential in these individuals, and then providing opportunities and resources that help them grow to reach it. This form of influence reflects the noblest character of leaders and epitomizes the highest good of leadership— i.e., the personal transformation of those we lead.

So, how do leaders take people from one stage of development to the next? Regardless of how far along an individual is in their motivations and skills, the strategy I suggest below can be employed at any stage and should form the focus of the time and energy of leaders who want to impact followers by developing them. Based upon my research into how people grow, the strategy is equip, empower and encourage.

Equip. This is the mental dimension of development. It includes behaviors from leaders to followers such as teaching, training, telling, and showing. The idea here is that those we lead must develop in their minds the knowledge necessary for the tasks and roles given to them in order to know what to do and how to do it. Today’s leaders equip others by instructing and training them through individual “showing and telling” sessions, apprenticeships, on-the-job mentoring... or providing them opportunities to go to workshops, conferences, and seminars. The goal is for people to clearly understand what they are to do and how they are to do it.

Empower. This is the behavioral 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 followers in doing things that fulfill needs in the workplace, but also lead to that individual’s growth. This goes beyond merely having them listen and watch. Empowering means involving followers with the goal of increasing their ownership and responsibility of a task, project or role. Empowerment might include delegation, but this is not delegation merely for the purpose of relieving the leader of a task. It is delegation with the intent of increasing the confidence, efficacy, and self-actualization of the individual. It is to develop followers in such a way that they are made less dependent upon the oversight of the leader. Here, followers are inherently motivated because they connect their knowledge to their actual performance and prove themselves capable. They also then bear fully the reward of their work, or the consequence of work not done well— which develops them too. People develop best by not just doing, but also by having ownership and reward in what they do.

Encourage. This is the emotional dimension of development. Theorists have concluded that individual motivation and development is much more lasting and successful when emotional and relational support are present.* Here, leaders do much more than impart knowledge and deploy people in work. They lend supportive behaviors to those they lead—behaviors such as asking for their suggestions and ideas, affirming and complimenting them, problem solving with them, sharing vision for where the organization is heading, providing reasoning about questionable decisions, congratulating them on work and life achievements, rewarding them with promotion or salary increases, empathy in times of loss or crisis, asking about their family and personal needs, and providing hopeful perspective when followers are discouraged.

In conclusion, good leaders equip the head, empower the hands, and encourage the heart of those they lead. When this occurs, they help followers develop to their full potential. People under them are fulfilled, become fruitful in work, are less likely to leave and may become leaders themselves. This moves the practice of leadership to the highest possible good. Going beyond being leaders who do; and going beyond being leaders of doers; we become instead leaders of leaders.

Doing so provides limitless opportunities for the growth of an organization (scaling takes place). The qualitative health of the organization (culture) is infused with life. Ultimately, leaders who equip, empower and encourage others find great personal fulfillment. They have the gratifying privilege of seeing others under them blossom and excel. These leaders leave a legacy of people who become leaders themselves and grow into change agents eventually passing on to their followers what was bestowed to them. This is the magnanimous life-cycle of leadership and there’s just about nothing more fulfilling for those who seek a life of influence.

* 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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