Today I want to talk about one of the greatest ways to lead well. No, I’m not talking about increasing your self-discipline or making more goals or expanding your influence. I want to talk about multiplication. Multipli - what? Don’t worry…this isn’t a blog about math.
Anyone can be a good leader. But a great leader is one who cultivates the people around them toward greatness too. So what do I mean when I say multiplication? I mean taking all the skills and experience and wisdom you’ve gleaned over the years and passing it on to the people around you. Investing in them. Leaving your workplace better than you found it. You know the old “teach a man to fish” adage? It’s a cliche because it’s true. If you lead one person well, awesome. But if you cultivate the talents of the people who have been put in your path so that they too can go on to lead well in their areas of strength, you will have dramatically increased your impact.
Sounds good, Jeff. But how? In an ideal world, you would have a supervisor or leader in your life who developed you. And you would have learned, through tangible experiences, how to duplicate that experience for another. But if that’s not the case for you, allow me to be a leader in your life that sees you and believes in your potential! And that right there is step one. Observe your team carefully and identify what they are good at. What traits or tasks do you notice them leaning toward or excelling at? If they have a supervisor other than yourself, ask them what good they see in their employee. Take notice of how they act in various settings, tasks, and levels of responsibility. Next, ask them directly. What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? What do you want to grow in? Be humble enough to admit that you can’t know everything about another person. So approach with curiosity and allow them to tell you who they are. But be ready to pour belief and insight into those that need a little nudge toward self-confidence.
Once you have an idea of what your coworker is good at, nurture their talents and skills by providing opportunities to learn. You may have the ability to offer explicit training on certain areas of growth. If so, do it! Any expansion of skill in one person benefits the entire team. Encourage them to develop their talents by providing resources, materials, and time for them to practice. Another way to create growth is by providing new opportunities within the workplace. Seek to find that magical place that is just beyond their current skill set, but not so far that they feel too overwhelmed to try. Push them beyond their comfort zone and challenge them to rise to the occasion. IF you have relational capital, they most likely will. Keep in mind, rising to the occasion does not equal success. They may very well fail the first time they try something new or take on more responsibility or lead another employee. Nurturing another’s skills means being there for the highs and the lows. Helping them learn from every experience. And being a mentor that empowers them to try again.
This leads me to my next point. Stick with them. Growth is hard and uncomfortable. It is much easier to stick with the status quo than to try for more. So if you decide to start developing your team, commit to the long haul. Recognize the effort they’re expending as they learn, grow, fail, and try again. Praise them when they do something well. Check in with them often. Brag about them when they’re around. Remind them that no one gains a new level of skill overnight or without some sweat, maybe blood and tears too. As you exhibit endurance in your leadership of them, they will find the strength they need to keep going.
As you cultivate the skills of your people, a wonderfully awkward thing may happen. They might find themselves less satisfied with their current role. Don’t freak out. Remember, employees who are happy with their jobs produce better work. We want our people excited about coming to work. So open the conversion of how you can help them find a way to use their newfound talent in a role or project that they enjoy. This could look like editing their job description to create space for more of what they love and less of what they don’t. Or it could mean a transfer to another department or a promotion. Or maybe it’s simply spearheading a new project or company initiative. Once you’ve provided some opportunities or suggestions for them to use their expanding skillset, ask them to take ownership of their own professional development. What ideas do they have for how they could continue growing? A great question I like to ask is “What brings you life?” Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Be a leader who multiplies. Multiply your skills, experience, insight, and impact by investing in others and nurturing their strengths toward greatness. It’s one of the greatest professional legacies you could have.
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