Recently in my work with new and emerging leaders, I've found something very interesting...often as we are talking about their positions, their work and their duties they are looking for more. "I wish that they would empower me more," stated one such young individual just last week. In short, our upcoming leaders are ASKING to be empowered. And yet, we often don't.
Why is that?
Personally, I think that one of the reasons is that we (the current leaders) think that we can do it all. I know this was the case for me. I knew that I had the skill, the talent, the ability, the experience or the time that others did not and therefore I was "the only one" who could do the task, thus the idea of passing it onto another individual to empower them never crossed my mind.
This is a great philosophy and it will get you to the top, but once you get to the height of the the mountain, you'll look around and notice "being at the top is lonely." I've heard this said often, but never by a leader. You see, leaders bring others to the top with them; they know that it is not necessarily the destination but rather the journey that is important and the more you can have travel on the journey with you the more enjoyable and beneficial it is for all involved.
Case in point.
This last July I strapped in our family of six and we traveled back to my hometown of Plain City, Utah to visit our family. We happened to get there just a couple of days before the 4th of July and the annual Plain City 4th of July 5K run. It has been and continues to be tradition for my Utah family to participate in this race, so I signed my two sons (ages 10 and 13) and I up for the race.
At the starting line, I was ready. Having been a top high school and college runner, my competitiveness kicked in and I was preparing to show not just my family but a handful of old school mates whom I've not seen in years what I could do. This was natural and something that has lead to great success in previous races. About 30 seconds before the race was to begin, I looked over at my 10 year old son Eli. He seemed quite apprehensive about this race. I knew he had doubts as to whether he could run for a continuous 3.1 miles.
I decided then and there to not worry about finishing first, but instead to stick with him. It was quite a journey, complete with strong points and points that were frustrating (honestly, there were times I wish that I had a cattle prod). Yet, after more than 20 minutes of encouraging, pushing, and supporting, he finished the race just ahead of me.
I turned to him right after the finish line and saw his glowing face, which is the result of an accomplishment that he did not believe he could actually do. For the entire rest of the day and a few beyond the 4th, he continued to talk about this race and how he was able to finish it.
It was a proud time for a dad.
It was even a more profound time for me as a leader. Isn't this what leadership is all about - finding the person we want to help grow, giving up all of our interests and desires and investing all of our efforts into encouraging, pushing and supporting? Yes, clearly this was a lesson of empowerment for me.
So, who is it that you will empower? How will you empower them? What will it take?
"Leadership must be based on goodwill...It means obvious and wholehearted commitment to helping followers...What we need for leaders are men of heart who are so helpful that they, in effect, do away with the need of their jobs. But leaders like that are never out of a job, never out of followers. Strange as it sounds, great leaders gain authority by giving it away." Admiral James B Stockdale.