Leaders don’t always lead; they also let others take the reins

2017-08-28 11:07:25



There is a political saying: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” The saying applies well to leadership management also.

If you are a leader, you must challenge your team members correctly to grow toward their potential. This is far easier said than done. Their deficits need to be corrected without demoralizing them. They need to be pushed but not so far that they go right out the door.

But what most leaders try to combine a mix of push and support to get the best out of their teams. Achieving this balance is never easy and is specific to each individual. It’s personally rewarding to help others accomplish more than they’d thought possible. And high-performing team members reflect very well on their leader.

Here are few effective strategies that will help you push your team members so they can surpass their own expectations and yours.

Look in for potential in your team members and call it out.

All leaders have tremendous power simply by being in a position of authority and can use their words to influence how others view themselves. The act of expressing belief in your team members and focusing on setting high but achievable standards for them has real returns.

When we communicate to a team member, we too often leave out the potential we see in him to be successful. We may challenge him but not say why we’re sure he can do it. Instead, consider the idea that if you see something praiseworthy, innovative or potential-enhancing from your team members, openly call it out.

Push people out of complacency.

There’s a natural tendency for us to gravitate toward what we’re good at doing. Then we get stuck there because we’ve become comfortable.

This kind of inactivity is too much of a good thing and can inhibit growth. Good leaders push people to try things they have potential for and give them the opportunity to take a risk. They actively look for ways their team members can practice the exact thing they need to do in a future date without any support.

Make failure a learning process.
Regardless of how smart or hardworking your team leaders are, on and off, failure is inevitable. Everyone makes mistakes or fails to meet expectations at some point in their professional lives and it’s important to frame those situations correctly or a career can be side-tracked. 

Team members will go further for a leader who they know has their back covered. It’s important to build your team leader back up after a failure and get him back on his feet again as soon as possible. Discuss the failure as a learning opportunity and avoid being overly critical about the issue. Make sure they know that you view failure as a necessary part of growth and innovation and that you see great things for the person ahead.

Remind team members that it’s about the effort, not just innate skills.
Instead of praising team members’ talents or brains, praise their efforts and strategies that got them to where they were. Verbalizing this particular type of praise works because it teaches them that instead of expecting things to come easy, they have to work hard to get results. Emphasizing the value of hard work—and praising team members for resilience—is crucial to motivating others to meet their potential.

When leaders don’t lead
We all know that leaders lead. When leaders lead, they share their vision and their excitement. They motivate their followers with their passion. Good leaders lead by example and, by doing so, they provide their followers a picture of what is possible.

We see them step up and effortlessly take charge. But with good leaders, that’s not always the case. Look a little more closely at a good leader you know and you will notice there are times when these good leaders don’t lead. They let others lead. They become followers. When you see a leader step back and give someone else the opportunity to lead, it’s usually of one of a few solid reasons. (1) Training, (2) Delegation and (3) Expertise. 

Leaders are responsible to develop their team members. They help the team members gain new skills to help the team increase its ability to reach the leader’s goal. Two important skills the leader teaches the team are leadership and followership.

One way you give someone an opportunity to learn and improve his leadership skill is by letting him lead. If the leader always leads, no one else on the team will ever have the chance to practice leading and they won’t improve in that key skill. So, when the leader steps back and lets someone else take over, it helps them both.

For example, you can call Jagath into your office and tell him, “I want you to run the meeting this afternoon. I’ll be there if you have any questions, but it’s your show.” If there are questions during the meeting, they should be directed to Jagath, not the boss. If someone asks the boss something, it will be referred to Jagath. The leader should only answer the questions from Jagath. This shows the team that Jagath is the leader. Or you call Jayani and tell her, “I want you to head up the new project. Here are your resources. This is the schedule. Here’s what I expect. Keep me posted and come see me if you have any issues.” Then get out of the way and let her lead the project team.


Jump and ‘fix’
Once I was asked by the top management whether I could lead a community service project they have selected. I had previous experience in the field but the problem was how I could find time. 
When one of the team members stepped up and volunteered to lead the effort, I was pleased and relieved for two reasons. (1)  I had discovered someone who might have some leadership talent I could use later. (2) I wouldn’t have to expend the extra effort to lead it and could be part of the team. I could be a good follower and, if requested, give offer a helping hand. 

And that is the second key skill a leader trains their team in – followership. A good leader has good followers. Just as the leader has led by example and shown the team his vision and the picture of what is possible, the leader now shows the team, by example, what good followership is. In each of the three examples, the leader has the opportunity to jump in and ‘fix’ things, but that’s not leadership and it is not followership. The leader has to know when to let the team member face some challenges in order to grow. By letting the others lead, the leader is providing a great example of followership. The leader trains team members every time he/she doesn’t lead.


Delegation is a specific form of training. When a leader delegates to one of his team members that person has the opportunity to function in a leadership role. He gets hands-on practice in leadership skills and identifies himself his skills and weaknesses. 


Leaders do not lead when they recognize that someone else has greater expertise with the subject matter. I remember once we needed musical entertainment for the annual company picnic. I had in my team two people who are musicians themselves who had played professionally in the past. I stepped aside and let them make the choices of what type of music to have, which musicians to hire, what sound equipment was needed, how to set up the stage, etc. They did a marvellous job and automatically begun grooming as leaders. 

(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired corporate director counting three decades of senior management experience. He is now an independent consultant and a freelance journalist. He may be contacted on

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