Of all the joys of leadership, helping others succeed is one of the most rewarding, and yet many leaders do not show an aptitude for this trait. There are numerous reasons for this from sheer hubris to not wanting underlings to advance beyond them due to insecurity. Probably the most common issue with helping others succeed is that it takes time and effort. Most leaders are so stressed out trying to maximize their own progress, they have little time or energy to perform the tasks that will allow others to blossom.
Here are eight areas where leaders can invest time and energy to find the payoff substantially more than the investment.
1. Become a Mentor
Having a good mentor speeds the development of any professional by 2-3 times the rate that would be achieved if one had to rely on self study and experience. Leaders need to realize that being a good mentor brings numerous advantages not only to the protégé but to himself. Reason: When we coach someone else, we are actually subconsciously coaching ourselves. In addition, the protégé brings information and a point of view that the leader would find hard to obtain without a trusted source of information. Make sure you are actively mentoring at least 2 professionals.
2. Invest Time
Taking time out of your day to coach other people adds perspective and helps prevent burnout. Thinking positive thoughts about what someone could become with the right development is a welcome break from the pressure cooker of critical decisions and time commitments. You will find yourself looking forward to your “people development time” once you get in the habit.
3. Be Accessible
Show by example that it is easy to get through to you. Many top executives insulate themselves from underlings to help manage time. When you demonstrate a willingness to get back to people quickly, it sends a signal that they really matter to you. That translates into improved morale, which directly boosts productivity. It takes a lot of discipline, but if people respect your willingness to be responsive, they will not be likely to abuse the privilege.
4. Empathize In Rough Times
We all go through difficult periods both professionally and personally. When a leader reaches out with moral support during these times, it shows a human side that makes a huge difference. One caveat, however, never reflect sympathy if it is not sincere. People see right through insincere empathy, and it can do more damage than ignoring the problems of people.
5. Get People in the Right Position
At any time, somewhere between 20-40% of professionals are in the wrong job just trying to survive and do their best. When you constantly seek to understand the correct position for individuals, you not only help reduce their personal agony, you improve productivity in giant chunks. This matching process is not a one shot affair. Make it a constant analysis of who could be better placed in another position. Sometimes this will mean a lateral move, or a promotion, or even a demotion. Many people have significantly improved their quality of work life by taking a demotion. It has saved the lives of many professionals.
6. Be a Mirror
When someone has a failing strategy, it is often difficult for the person to even see it let alone know how to change it. You can be helpful at bringing people to reality. Do this in a kind way following the Golden Rule, and you will rarely go wrong. If you avoid getting involved with failing people, you are just letting them drift along with their suboptimal condition, which wastes their precious time and hurts the organization.
7. Develop People – Including Yourself
Make sure every person has a concrete development plan that is not just a string of courses, readings, or seminars. Personal growth is really about helping people rise to their highest possible contribution. Make sure you model personal development yourself. Do not consider that you are too busy for it. Your own development plan should inspire your underlings to have one as well.
8. Write Your Own Eulogy
One helpful exercise is to actually sit down and write your own eulogy. It sounds maudlin, but it is really a helpful exercise. When you crystallize your thoughts about how you would like to be remembered it is easier to see the deltas from your current pathway. Then it is up to you to do something about it.
There are probably dozens of other things a leader can do to help others, but this list of eight things is a great place to start.