One of my greatest desires for Restoration City is that we would be known as a church that’s serious about developing leaders. I pray often that God would give us the privilege of planting a church one day that’s pastored by someone who came to faith through Restoration City. That means we need to be really effective in reaching the lost, making disciples and giving gifted people the freedom to lead. It also means we need to create a culture where we’re regularly learning about leadership.
To that end, our staff team is currently working through Liz Wiseman’s incredible book, Multipliers. It’s easily one of the most impactful books I’ve read over the last few years and I recommend all the time to people wanting to grow in their leadership. The basic premise of the book is simple: It’s better to be a genius maker than a genius. The best leaders are the ones that tap into the genius of the people around them instead of relying on their own genius. One of the implications of this idea is that as leaders, we all need to decide if we want to be the person with all of the answers or the person who develops other leaders. You simply can’t have both. Many of us think leadership development is nothing more than drilling our genius into other people’s heads. Nope. It’s about releasing the genius God has placed in others.
As good as that all sounds, it’s incredibly hard to do. I know many leaders who think the only reason they have their job is that they know better than everyone else in the organization. In that view of leadership, the organization exists to execute the genius of the leader but the leader has nothing to learn from the organization. Two words of caution if that’s how you see yourself. One, no one likes working for you and your best people will leave. Ultimately, you’ll be left leading a talent free team that can’t think for themselves and that’s a recipe for disaster. Two, decision fatigue will exhaust you and deteriorate the quality of your answers. So, you end up leading a team blindly executing bad ideas. You can figure out how that’s going to go, genius.
The real question is how we prevent ourselves from leading this way or make changes if we’re already leading this way. Frankly, that’s what the book’s about, so you should read it! But our team has latched onto one little anecdote and is working to ingrain it into our culture. In chapter 6 of Multipliers, Wiseman tells a simple story from a summer internship with a management training company. Her boss had asked her to edit a marketing brochure and next to one section she wrote “AWK” to indicate it was awkwardly phrased. Her boss agreed but came charging back into her office and said, “Don’t ever give me an A-W-K without an F-I-X”. He didn’t just want her to point out problems, he wanted her to think through solutions. As simple as that is, it’s an incredible leadership development moment.
We’ve tried to internalize that as a staff team with the following leadership plumline: Ask me anything, as long as you have a recommendation. Or, if you would like a shortened version, “Think before you ask.” It’s a plumline that helps us simultaneously pursue two goals: One, keep leaders engaged. “Ask me anything” forces a leader to stay involved and accessible. No one wins when we throw people into the deep end to sink or swim on their own. Two, it forces team members to think through an issue and decide what they think they should do before bringing it to their leader. You only get to ask the question if you have a suggestion. We’re deliberately fighting back against the “hey, what do you want me to do?” followed by, “Do x,y,z” interactions that dominate most workplace conversations.
That means as a leader I find myself using the following phrases more and more regularly: Good question, what do you think? I don’t know, what do you want to do? If you had my job, what would you decide? You’ve thought more about this than I have, where have you landed? What do you think would best serve our leaders/people/mission?
When I answer my team’s questions with one of those questions I’m setting us up for one of three possible outcomes:
Outcome #1: Affirm their recommendation. This is the best case scenario. I basically get to say, “See you already knew what to do! Next time, just do it.” It’s a home run for your team member’s morale and it gets one more decision off your desk.
Outcome #2: Correct their recommendation. This is the most valuable scenario. As the leader, you need to understand why they arrived at the answer they did. Once you understand that, you get to explain how you arrived at the answer you did and show how that solution better serves the organization. This is one of the most valuable forms of leadership development there is.
Outcome #3: Change your mind. If this isn’t an option on the table, don’t kid yourself, you aren’t really interested in developing leaders. You’re just interested in being right. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your answer is correct – the person you’re developing may well be right. This is the invaluable scenario. Nothing builds credibility with your team like being willing to learn from them.
You’ll know you’re getting the idea when you come to the conclusion that being a developer of other leaders is harder in the short run but far more beneficial in the long run. It’s easy to spend all day enthroned behind your desk spouting answers. But no one grows, you get depleted and the mission suffers. Trade the easy way for the meaningful way and see what it does to your team, your organization and the leaders who work with you.