Great leaders create more leaders, not more followers. That’s why the true measure of any leader is in the quality of the team they lead.
It’s also why poor leaders can often take so long to replace: sometimes they will inherit or recruit good people, but those people rarely stick around for long. So more often than not, there’s no natural successor waiting to step into their shoes, and if you need to look outside for a replacement it can be risky, time-consuming and expensive.
The “no management” approach in Google’s R&D division is perhaps the ultimate test of leadership. Their employees decide for themselves with which projects, and which leaders, they want to get involved. Poor leaders find themselves without a team, and without a job.
In more “normal” organisations the process is slower, but it’s still apparent – just look at the diaspora of top talent that left Tesco when Terry Leahy handed over to Phil Clarke and you’ll see what they thought of Phil as a leader.
Compare that with the legacy of Archie Norman and Allan Leighton at ASDA in the ‘90s. CEO successions, not once but twice, have been seamless, and in the last decade probably half of retail’s top jobs have been occupied by their protégés. Thus, the irony of really great leaders is that they’re not actually that hard to replace (not that you’d want to replace them) as they develop their own replacements, ready to step up when they’re needed.
They follow three steps – very simple to say, not quite so simple to do:
- Get good people
- Give them the purpose, development and recognition they need
- Give them your authority and get out of their way
The last is the hardest, especially for Executives – what do you do when your people are ready to do your job? For them to step up, you need to step up. But where do you step up to? Here are three options:
Development: join other boards as a non-exec or as a trustee, ideally in a sector that will stretch you, and offer new experiences and perspectives.
Innovation: take a portion of your time each week to spend with people, and at events, completely outside your normal sphere.
Strategy: write down the three things you’d work on if the board gave you six months, back-filled, to do whatever you thought would make the greatest positive impact, and then carve out some time to make a start.
Bottom Line: There’s no point developing others if there’s no space for them to develop into. And the best way to create that space is to carve out your own time, and to use it to develop yourself.