My son got his full driverâ€™s license recently. Later that day, he asked to borrow the car to drive his friend to work. I agreed of course. Then he said, â€śWell I was hoping to take the BMW instead of the truckâ€ť. My two-week old car. I knew he was a good and careful driver as I had been coaching him and watched how he drove. He had taken lessons, and his instructor told me that he was a good driver. Still I winced. Then I handed him the key. He has rewarded that trust by being very careful and respectful of the car, he even texted me to tell me he got there safely.
The same actions and results can be true with leaders you put into place. Guidance and trust are keys to success. I had just been promoted to manage a group of developers and technical support specialists in 2003. I was lucky; all four teams had good leaders. For the first few months as I began to learn how to manage and take my fingers off the keyboard, these leaders kept their teams going. Very quickly the two ambitious team leads left for other opportunities within RIM; these were the two with the most experience and the most stressful roles. It was a tough blow, the opportunities were good for their career; I wished them well.
The daunting task of finding new team leads fell to me. One choice was easy. Lucy was a natural leader. She had charisma, she was knowledgeable, she had credentials from her work and she was full of enthusiasm and positive energy. In fact, I had pegged her as â€śleadership materialâ€ť the first time I met her. Two very important traits Lucy had were that she was cautious and organized. Those were good complements to my skills â€“ these are two of my biggest weaknesses. After a while I understood that having those complementary skills made us a better management team in the whole.
The second team lead was tougher. Leading a technical support team requires a distinct personality type; presence, good listener and patience, all combined with strong knowledge of the code and environmental factors. I could see that Charlie had the skills, they were very raw, but he would have the ability required. He also was cautious and organized.
Charlie and Lucy both had one more trait in common. A necessary trait for every leader. They were closers. A good leader can rally people and get them moving down a path. A great leader will execute along that ride, to get people to the destination.
They both had to learn that they had natural skills, and how to develop them. They also had a few things to learn. Identifying both their natural skills and the key elements to learn was my first step. Next, was to give them supported opportunities to develop the skills in a systematic way. With Lucy, she had to learn the code base to have credibility with the other developers. Her first tasks were fixing complicated problems, leveraging the team to help her so she could learn. She learned how to learn the code enough to think critically about the code, and to delegate tasks to the team in ways that helped her team learn more, yet also showed that she understood their strengths and areas for improvement. As she got more comfortable, I began to enhance her opportunities to use her natural charisma, organizational skill and positive outlook by bringing her to more meetings with customer service and external customers. She got the exposure to customerâ€™s real problems; she understood how to help alleviate the pain. We formulated a plan and she executed on it successfully.
Similarly with Charlie, we went through a plan of growth, focused on communication skills, building and leading a team. A key aspect of the plan was teaching both them how to identify and grow leaders within their own groups.
Eventually Charlie and Lucy were at every customer meeting that I had been attending. I handed over the keys and watched them thrive. I trusted them with the fragile relationships between customer and development that I created. They did things differently than I did; I winced when I saw their approach. They showed they earned my trust by strengthening what I started in ways that I did not envision.
As with my son, I helped, coached, and planned for their success. Their success meant that I could move on to other challenges, to lead other changes.
Building a legacy of leadership must be the goal of leaders. I want to build more leaders, and give them the tools to build even more leaders. My greatest success is the legacy of leadership I created. Charlie and Lucy built up several more leaders who have been successful in their own fashion.
Build leaders, not followers, and you will find joy and freedom in your creation.