True leadership isn’t manifest during the leader’s tenure. It shines well beyond.
Becoming a manager requires the stroke of a pen, an entry into an HRM database, the inclusion of a new title. Becoming a leader happens in the minds and hearts of those who may decide to follow the leader. The two are often sought simultaneously (formal authority and informal persuation), but almost always achieved separately.
Quoting perennial business leadership guru, Jack Welch, “The moment you become the leader, it stops being about you, and it starts being about them – your people.” He’s right. The sooner a new manager figures out that his responsibility is no longer doing the work, but rather coordinating the work of others, the faster he is able to tap the collective genius, strength and ability of the group. Too many new managers attempt to make themselves indispensable to the company. They retain information – after all, knowledge is power. And they remain trapped in the if-I-want-it-done-right-I’ll-do-it-myself mindset. Breaking free means sitting on your hands when you are tempted to do it yourself, biting your tongue when you feel the urge to spew out your ready-answers, and generally allowing people to take risk, and sometimes fail, in order to reinforce their own learning and growth, not to validate your own expertise and lordship.
So then, how is true leadership made manifest only after his tenure?
The leader who loses herself in her colleagues’ development inspires confidence – confidence in the leader, and more importantly confidence in themselves. The leader who aligns business processes and systems with the organization’s values generates trust. Then, those next-generation leaders find increased productivity, innovation, and zeal in the empowered culture that takes hold.
Finally, the leader leaves, and no one notices.
This is the moment her genius shines. It is at this instant where the organization continues to thrive and spontaneously generate new leaders and sustained results that people realize the fruits of the former boss’ labors. And that is how the newly departed leader – the ‘leadership generator’ – makes herself indispensable.