What is the difference between a leader and a leader developer? Is there a difference? You are a leader if you have people following you. Many leaders have the title but are they really leading or are they telling?
When a coworker comes to you with an issue and they are looking for some help, do you give them the answer and send them on their way? Do you listen to them describe the issue and quickly give them the solution. If so, what will they do the next time they have an issue? Will they come to you for the answer?
What if your solution doesn’t work out? Who is responsible for outcome? Will they come back to you the next time they have an issue?
Are you helping them to find a solution to an issue? What if they make a mistake? What is their solution doesn’t work? Do you say that you would have done it differently or do you encourage them to think of another solution?
Becoming a Leader Developer
Ok, so you really do want to go down this path to become a leader developer, even though it might mean that you are not making all the decisions.
Are you able to let others make decisions? Even if they may make a mistake? If no, STOP here!
Good, then here’s how to become a leader developer.
First of all, you have to recognize that you can be a leader developer without being officially granted the title of a leader.
Leadership is not something that can be conveyed with a title anyway. Leaders are leaders because people follow them, not because they are appointed to some position. Authority can be granted, leadership is earned.
You can be an authority without being a leader, and you can be a leader without authority. In fact, some of the most effective leaders operate without any authority at all, because they don’t need it.
With that said, becoming a leader developer is more about earning the respect and trust of your followers than anything else. When your people know that you value their input, they are more likely to contribute to a solution.
In order to become a leader developer, you need to show that you are not just competent, but also have the capacity to foster relationship, encourage, build a sense of unity, and inspire them.
A true leader, of any sort, is able to bring people together and unite them for a common cause.
Here are a few traits I think a good leader should possess:
- Has conviction
- Good communication skills
- Good listening skills
If you want to be a leader developer, you should focus on developing those traits. You will want to invest in your soft skills like active listening and asking powerful questions.
The best leader developers are leaders who you can not only count on to give good direction, but also to inspire you to grow and do better work, and whom you can trust to have your best interest and the interest of the team at heart.
The best leaders want to help you become more successful.
If you want to become a leader developer, you should first imagine what the ideal team would look like, and then act as if you were already that leader of that team.
Forget the political games and maneuvers, instead seek to render useful service to others and start acting the role, not by bossing people around and having a holier-than-thou attitude, but by being humble and genuinely seeking to help other people on your team.
What it means to be a Leader Developer
First you need to learn how to listen effectively or as I call it Actively.
Active listening means that you put all distractions out of your mind like your phone, your agenda, and your time constraints. Do not listen so that you can provide the solution. Listen to understand what the issue is without providing what you think needs to be done. By actively listening you are focused on their agenda and not your own. You help them to know you care.
Next you need to learn to ask questions that are thought provoking or as I call them Powerful Questions.
A powerful question helps the follower to think about possible solutions and you are able to help them to narrow down the ideas in order to determine what is the best solution. Many times we find that a person already knows what they need to do and are looking for someone else to approve of the solution.
Here are some examples of Powerful Questions:
“What do you think might be a possible solution to the issue?”
“What have you tried already?”
“I know that you said that you don’t know what to do, but if you did know what to do, what would it be?”
Tell me more…
Now we can talk about the most important job a leader developer has is to make his or her team successful. Not just to make the team successful, but to make each individual on that team as successful as possible.
If you want to be a good leader developer, your primary job, the most important thing you can do is to make as many people around you as successful as possible.
If you can do that, you will be successful.
But, how do you do that?
Leading by example
It starts with leading by example.
Don’t tell people what to do, show them. Do what you expect other people to do, do it yourself first, and then let them see why what you are doing is beneficial.
You can argue and try to get people do what you want until you are blue in the face, but if you really want to inspire people, if you really want to move them to action, you have to lead by first showing them the path to take and generate the results to prove that your way is best way or have them show you a better way.
If you want the people on your team to work on developing their skills and personal development, you must be a shining example of the same. You should spend more hours than anyone else learning new things and sharing what you have learned with others. You should be the one writing up blog posts that share what you are learning and inspiring others to do the same.
The point is, if you want people to follow you, you have to lead, and you do that by example.
When a leader makes a mistake, guess who gets the blame for it?
That’s right, the leader.
When a team member makes a mistake, guess who takes the blame for it?
That’s right, also the leader.
If you want to be a leader developer, you have to take responsibility, not only for your own mistakes, but for the mistakes made by everyone else on your team.
I know this isn’t a popular sentiment. I know that most people are offended that I would suggest they should take responsibility for someone else’s mistakes, but I’ll put it bluntly.
If you are not willing to take responsibility and I mean full responsibility, for the mistakes of your team, you should not be a leader.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t be a good team-member. It doesn’t mean that you can’t contribute to the team’s success and help others along the way.
I’m just saying that if you want to be the leader, you have to be ready and willing to accept all responsibility for the failures of your team.
A good leader gladly takes this responsibility upon his or herself.
A good leader shields the team from blame, so that they can have the freedom to take risks and so that they do not waste needless time playing games.
Like I said before, leadership is not for everyone.
Oh, and one more note on taking responsibility.
Guess who gets to claim credit when the team succeeds?
The leader? No. It’s a unilateral agreement of sorts.
Yes, the leader may be largely responsible for the success of the team, but he or she never takes credit. Instead, a good leader gives that credit back to the team.
Remember that being a leader may be a thankless job?
Not only does a good leader take responsibility for the actions of the team, but a good leader also frequently acts as the mouthpiece of the team to other teams, managers, business people and whoever else the team needs to interact with.
That doesn’t mean that a leader is the only person to communicate with anyone outside of the team, but the leader is often the person responsible for communicating the vision and ideas of the team to others.
As a leader you should be able to clearly and effectively communicate solutions to other people and do this while avoiding conflict. This is not an easy task, especially when bearing bad news. People often like to shoot the messenger.
The best way to communicate with “the business” is to first make sure that you, yourself, clearly understand what is going on and the challenges you are facing. The better you understand what is going on, the easier it will be for you to communicate that to others. That means that you have to have a constant pulse of what everyone is working on and what challenges they are facing and you need to be able to translate all of that into terms that others can understand.
This takes some practice, but it’s an essential skill for a leader, because a large portion of your task is communicating with the stakeholders and customers that you are working for.
It can be especially difficult when you have to present why an idea that “the business” has is not feasible or is not the right solution for the issue at hand.
It’s tempting to either cower down to the authorities that be and promise something that either can’t be delivered or to agree to a sub-optimal solution, or to defiantly stand against any who would oppose you, but you have to have a way to walk the line.
A good leader can sympathize with, and understand business requirements and the reasoning behind a decision or position, and then present a clear, rational argument in favor of a proposed solution.
A good leader knows when to make a trade-off that might not be optimal, but will avoid unnecessary conflict, but also knows when to stand his or her ground and not over-commit the team or promise something that can’t be delivered. A good leader fosters communication between the team and the rest of the organization.
Helps others do their best
The most beneficial leader to have on any team is one whose very presence on the team causes others to perform at high levels.
If you want to be a good leader, you have to not only commit yourself to continual personal development, but you have to also inspire others to do the same. Help your team develop their own leadership skills.
As a leader, you should be keeping your skills as sharp as possible by spending time each day learning and reading up on the latest trends. You should make sure you understand what your team is working with better than anyone else, if possible, so that you can be a reliable support for your team and you can lead them, confidently, in a desired direction.
Likewise, you should do everything possible to make sure your team has what they need to be successful and you should show them that you personally care about their individual successes and accomplishments.
When someone knows you care, and that they and their work matters, they are much more likely to perform at a higher level.
Being a leader developer isn’t an easy job
This brings me back to what I said at the beginning of this article, that you should really question whether or not you have what it takes, or if you even really want to be a leader developer vs. just a leader.
The job isn’t easy, it might be thankless, and it can involve a lot of sacrifice, but if you care about seeing people succeed and you are willing to devote the time and energy to help them do it, you have the potential to become a great leader and leader developer.
But, if you are just seeking a position of power, or the authority to tell other people what to do, or if you motives are completely based on that raise you are expecting from becoming the leader, you’ll probably find yourself struggling in the position.
So, think carefully if you really want to become a leader developer and if you do, be humble, take responsibility and do everything in your power to make your team and the members as successful as possible.