Creating Leaders

As I came on watch, the last of the light of the day faded. Everyone else was settling down in the sailboat for the night. I was alone at the wheel in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, responsible for keeping the boat on track and everyone safe for my three-hour watch. Turning around to look behind the boat, I saw a slightly darker cloud approaching. I knew that could only mean a squall was coming with lots more wind. It was time to roll in some of the sails so that we would still be in control when the squall hit.

In the middle of an ocean the lives of all the people on board depend on everyone’s ability to run the boat. The Captain can’t be awake 24 hours a day, so there is no choice but to let others lead some of the watches.

I believe that the number one goal of leaders needs to be to create the next generation of leaders. When sailing on long passages, the Captain has no choice but to grow other leaders. In organizations, the lives of people are rarely at stake. It can be much harder for leaders to see how they are growing leaders. Here are my suggestions for growing your capabilities as a leader by creating more leaders.

Hire A-Players

If A’s hire B’s and B’s hire C’s, pretty soon there will only be Z’s. You need to hire, train, and grow people who are capable of being much better than you. Use the techniques from Topgrading or follow the processes in the book Who: The A Method for Hiring. People do not put enough effort into attracting, screening, and onboarding A-Players, yet this is exactly what you need to do to create the next set of leaders.

Turn It Over

In my sailing metaphor, the Captain had to turn over control of the boat to someone else. In the rest of life, we need to choose to turn over control to someone else. The biggest impediment to this is to let go of our ego and belief that only we can do the job. High performing people get stuff done. For them, it can be very challenging to let go and fully trust someone else to achieve a goal, especially when their boss is depending on the outcome.

If you struggle in this area, find a mentor or hire a coach to help you work through it. You can only scale so far. If you want to deliver more, you must figure out how to get others to take a leading role so that you can all grow your capabilities together.

Let People Fail Safely

Plan the tasks and projects that you can turn over to someone else. Start with as big a project as possible, as long as failure of the project doesn’t mean that your whole department or even organization will be taken out. People learn a lot more from their failures than their successes. You need to give them the opportunity. Most of the time, they will in fact succeed. Your skill is in setting things up so that there are support systems in place should the individual fail.

You need to take the reputational risk that a critical outcome is missed. If it happens, own the miss without publicly blaming the leader you are helping to grow. Debrief every significant project with the individual and with the team as an opportunity for learning. The biggest lessons may the ones you need to continue growing more leaders.

When sailing across an ocean, you take what nature gives you. When everyone is capable, you are both safe and comfortable. Grow your capabilities as a leader by creating the next set of leaders and you too can sail off into the sunset.