A leader’s behavior shouts so loud people cannot hear what he is saying. Likewise, our actions shout so loud that people cannot hear our words. This is even more so for leaders.
As a leader, people always watch their every word and move. The leader’s behavior will always trickle down the company and become the culture. The values exhibited at the top are mimicked as you go down the ladder.
A great leader I met some time ago was very charismatic. He could utter the most inspirational words at the right moment. He commands attention without even trying when he stands in front of people. He is battle bruised and a successful entrepreneur. This leader has accomplished a great deal, given that he is just entering mid-life.
I would hear him say that the job of leaders is to set up their people to succeed. Leaders should set up people to succeed. That’s a great aspiration and a worthy purpose.
However, with his drive and determination for the company to succeed, he would sometimes forget that his leaders are not of the same caliber and experience.
We, as leaders, often forget that what may seem easy for us is not necessarily easy for our direct reports. What may seem like an easy goal for us can be a scary undertaking for our direct reports. After all, they do not yet possess the years of experience and knowledge gathered through the years as we do.
We all have our management and leadership maturity levels. No two levels are the same. We took different routes and learned different things up the ladder. We had different mentors, different sources of learning, and different values.
Having said this, it’s not fair to hold our direct reports to the same competency standards that we hold ourselves. Unfortunately, I am also a victim of this. I sometimes wonder why a direct report is struggling with a task that I think is easy enough. Well, the answer is because we have different levels of competencies.
When people that was supposed to be set up for success by the charismatic leader start to fail, they get verbally showered with painful words. Once this starts, a pattern emerges, and the occurrence becomes more frequent.
After a few months, the leader in question would begin to strain and leave. It’s not only the mediocre ones that go but also the good ones. Some leave even before being given a promotion. There is no psychological safety in the workplace.
On the other hand, I met another leader that also started from humble beginnings. She created a company of eight employees into 1,600 after several years. Her secret? She sets people to succeed. She never says this, but she does it anyway—one of her core beliefs in developing leaders to succeed. We had set up a leadership development program for the succession pool.
Without proper orientation, training, and support, she does not abruptly place a leader from one role to a higher position. They take months to prepare a leader properly. The up-and-coming leader is then posted in an OIC role for six months. This will give them the time to learn the ropes, and be trained, mentored, and guided accordingly.
One of the worse things we can do to our people is promoting them without providing them the tools to succeed. Providing them with the tools before we allow them to swim makes a big difference. Setting people to succeed means preparing them. Setting people to succeed also means that if someone we promote fails, we take accountability for the error in our judgment. We cannot just blame it on the failed leader. It’s primarily our fault.
Setting people to fail means promoting them, pressuring them, and blaming them. That’s a recipe for a toxic environment with a high attrition rate.
Let’s not do that. As leaders, we must develop our leaders. We have the responsibility to provide them with the tools needed to succeed. We need to teach them how to be successful swimmers before we get them to compete internationally. Finally, we need the humility to take accountability for a failed promotion.
That’s the true mark of a servant leader.