The Ultimate Test of Leadership

The ultimate test of leadership is this: Do you as a leader have the ability to help common people achieve uncommon performance? Can you help a follower or a weak leader become a strong leader?

A leader, a true leader anyway, has many responsibilities. Leadership requires sacrifice, commitment and often, steadfast determination to push further when those around you are suggesting that you don’t.

I believe that the greatest of all leadership responsibilities is building people, and hopefully, building them into leaders. If as a leader, you fail to develop a leader who can fill your role upon your departure then it’s unlikely that your leadership can be deemed a complete success. Leaders who cannot build more leaders are limited leaders. That is not my opinion, that is a fact.

That limitation will also limit almost every other aspect of an organization’s growth. That’s simple math; two leaders can grow an organization faster than one, three can grow it faster than two, four can… well, you get the idea.

The challenge for leaders is that people development requires time and too many people in leadership positions believe they can’t afford the time required. These would be the same “leaders” who proudly say that their people are their greatest asset while investing more resources in service contracts for their copiers and computers than they do in developing their people.

As the saying goes, “follow the money.” When organizations don’t invest dollars in their people it makes it hard to believe that they would invest time. If the organization isn’t investing time in people development then it’s almost certain that the leader isn’t either.

If you’re a leader who wants to build more leaders then first you must understand that you can’t and should not try to lead through them. You provide leadership to them and give them the opportunity to lead others. You need to help them develop their own leadership skills and let their leadership flow through the organization.

If you’re interested in building future leaders then be a bit unreasonable. No one gets stronger by lifting the weight they are comfortable lifting. Build leaders by challenging them with seemingly unreasonable goals; goals they cannot accomplish on their own. This will encourage them to rally other people to the cause. It will likely require innovation, planning, diligence, patience, people skills, and most of all, leadership.

They will need to set direction, and coach others towards success, they will need to develop their own team of leaders. If you give all your future leaders goals you’re certain they should, can, and will achieve then you’re treating them like a follower, not a leader. Remember, making a diamond requires pressure, a raw leader who is never pressured is likely to remain just a raw, and weak, leader.

Avoid “over-coaching” your future leaders. Set clear, measurable objectives and let them run. If they need and willingly accept coaching all the time they are probably not future leaders. Leaders like coaching when they ask for it and need it; only followers want and accept coaching all the time.

Help them to believe in themselves and you’ll be amazed at what they can accomplish. Their results will be uncommon and you will have passed the ultimate test of leadership; you’ll have developed your organization’s next generation of leaders.

12 thoughts on “The Ultimate Test of Leadership

  1. Totally true Steve, 100%.

    And yet, in spite of this all being true, why isn’t it being done more often?

    I was thinking about this for a bit after I initially read your post and perhaps it has to do with resources.

    People already in leadership may HAVE what you described as material resources. Yet what if the real problem is people are lacking in internal resources (spiritual poverty) If people had something to invest in others, wouldn’t they?

    This also reminds me of what we are chasing after as a culture and individually. If we chase after money, we have very little left to cultivate the other kind of resources to invest in what is most important…in people…in our relationships..in life…in LOVE!

    That’s our challenge. The right kind of internal resources needs to be there in order for more leaders to be willing to invest in people.

    Thanks for sharing my friend.

    • I think all the resources are there, what’s missing is motivation. The other issue for some is a timing thing… I’ve got time to build a leader tomorrow. I think lots of leaders have great intentions and a not so great calendar. They just miss how big a job it is, how much of a time investment it really is.

      What I also think many leaders miss is how great of an accomplishment it is to build your successor. When you do that your legacy lives on.

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