As a leader, how do you help others shine more than you do?
Yesterday I was given 90 seconds to ponder this question from John Maxwell’s book, Leadershift, and then asked to share with a group what he meant by the statement.
My initial answer was that in order to let others shine, you have to give them a platform for success. You have to let go of being the one who controls and does everything and trust that if someone can do the job at least 75% as good as you can, they should be given the job. You can coach and develop them after that. If they can’t do the job to the 75% skill level, then coach and develop them until they can. But trust others and recognize that if you never give them a chance to grow and perform because you want to stay in charge, you’ll never be able to grow your area of leadership beyond what you can personally produce.
It was an “okay” answer, but it was far from a great answer. So I continued to ponder the question throughout the day. Then I started reading Maxwell’s book on the topic.
What does it mean to let others shine more than you do?
According to Maxwell, it means you must stop focusing on yourself and start focusing on how to help draw limitless potential out of others. You must center your leadership around their needs. You must listen to their ideas. You must work out what your people do well and compliment them on it. You must focus on how you can add value to others and the opportunities you have to help them instead of how others can add value to you and help you.
As I pondered that, I pondered some of the best lessons I have learned over the years.
1. Your job is to tell THEIR story
I once worked for a company where I was responsible for putting on more than 100 events of various sizes per year, writing press releases, and managing social media accounts. It would have been very easy to take center stage and make the publicity around those things feature me. But I didn’t. It was rare to see me in a photo or find me quoted in a press release.
My boss sat me down fairly early in my tenure at the company and told me that whenever possible, he would prefer not to be featured in photos or interviews. Instead, he wanted me to look for ways to feature our employees. He avoided the camera at events and asked me to direct the press to feature our employees there, too. Even in moments where he deserved to take the spotlight, he would ask for ways to avoid being the center of the story.
He never told me to do the same. He just modeled the behavior.
Through his leadership, I learned that it was much more fun to be the one behind the camera giving others the opportunity to shine and tell their story than it was to be the one featured. The same was true at events. I could have been featured in 100s of photos highlighting what I was doing, but the reality was, it wasn’t about me. The events were about the people attending, the lessons being taught, or some other purpose that deserved the spotlight. I was just the conduit to ensuring they happened.
2. Your Job is to find THEIR strengths
In my mid-20s, I was tasked with building and managing a marketing team that worked in multiple states. I quickly found it hard to get people to do things the way I did them. It frustrated me.
During one of our mentor meetings, my boss sat me down and encouraged me to stop trying to micromanage how people achieve their goals and instead learn how to leverage their unique strengths to achieve things I was never capable of achieving without them.
3. Show them you trust THEIR ideas
I look back on my early marketing portfolio and want to hide it in the bottom of a box. My work looks like a new college graduate created it. The design skills don’t follow best practices because I didn’t yet have two decades of studying design under my belt. The advertisements are missing key marketing elements because I hadn’t learned all of them yet. My copywriting was lacking because I hadn’t yet taken multiple copywriting courses.
Nonetheless, my boss published my pieces in national trade magazines, allowed me to create a company newsletter with full freedom, and followed my lead on designing a more functional website (in the days when websites were still fairly new concepts as marketing tools — yes, I’m that old).
When I asked him why he published my work without really modifying it years later, he told me it was because he had hired me to do a job. He couldn’t help me grow if he redesigned every thing I did to match his ideas, but he could coach me through our results on how to improve future pieces. He knew if he stifled my creativity too early in my career, he would hamper my self-confidence and create someone who came to him for approval on everything. He also knew it was important for me to know he trusted me.
When our marketing campaigns did well, he always gave me credit for the part I played in them. When they didn’t do well, he always took personal responsibility for the failure.
What about you? What’s the best advice you have for leaders, or what examples can you share, on how to let others shine more than you do?