One of the most important roles that a leader has is the development of the people that the leaders serve. Often this means letting those people take the lead even though their level of performance may not be at the same level as the leaders.
Recently a client (let’s call him John) shared a story where he had battled to resist his own internal urge to ‘takeover’ from one of his team members (let’s call her Amy) when it became apparent that Amy was uncomfortable performing the task she had agreed to perform.
Amy had agreed to be the host and welcome a High Court Judge to their team, and then thank and provide a summary of the judge’s speech to conclude the evening. After struggling through her initial welcome John had become quite concerned that Amy’s performance was not up to his standards, despite this being Amy’s first time at performing such a role. As his discomfort rose, so too did his desire to ‘save’ Amy by taking over from her. John knew that he could have done a better job and was concerned about how Amy’s introduction would reflect on the organsiation if it wasn’t rectified for the concluding sections of the event.
Taking this type of action in this instance would have by many people’s standards reflected great leadership. After all, who wants top run the risk of their organsiation looking poor because of someone’s poor performance? Something inside John, possibly his social intelligence, told him to ‘hold his nerve’ and to do nothing. That is right, John consciously decided to do ‘nothing’ (which, if we wanted to get technical, is in fact a conscious choice to do something that in this example was to not intervene). In leadership the choice to do nothing is often far more difficult than the choice to do something!
John’s intuition was justified as Amy recovered her poor welcome address by completing an outstanding thank you and summary of the the judge’s speech. The judge even commented on the quality of Amy’s listening and was appreciative of the fact that at least one person had clearly listened to him! Amy was delighted and received a significant confidence boost from having worked through her challenge.
When reflecting on the evening John had mentioned to me that no-one other than himself had been aware of the leadership challenge that he had faced that evening. Leadership is very much like that. A great deal of the work by great leaders goes unnoticed, especially when the leader is holding themself back for the sake of the development of a team member.
John also noted how delighted he felt when Amy had ‘delivered’ at the end of the judge’s speech. His delight came from multiple sources. The first was that he was delighted for Amy because he knew that she would have been disappointed with her welcome and introduction (which she later confirmed) and that she would have been stressing about the summary and concluding remarks (which she also confirmed). To overcome those stresses and to perform so well was exciting because it showed Amy that she could recover from a poor start and it would also give her confidence moving forward into her next development activities. The second source for John’s delight was that he had been his own master in this little episode. On previous occasions he had stepped in and ‘saved the day’, or so he had thought. After this experience his thoughts about the previous ones were, “What if, instead of saving the day, I had actually reduced the development of those people so that I could look good?” It is an interesting question, isn’t it!
Leadership is not always about being the person out the front making all the noise. Often, true leadership comes from having the personal mastery to let others lead. In this way, doing ‘nothing’ can be just as effective as doing ‘something’.
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