Modeling Leadership Grows Future Leaders

by Alli Polin on September 17, 2013

Modeling Leadership Creates the Space for Future Leaders to Grow

I’m definitely one of “those Moms.”  I make my kids crazy because I’m always worried that they will get hurt if they climb to the top of the play structure, jump over a fence or roughhouse too much in the pool.  “Don’t do that! Stop it!  What are you thinking?!” comes out of my mouth far too often.  Luckily, I recognize that and I am working on giving my kids the space to grow, make mistakes and learn without a mom-intervention.

As I dropped my kids off at school the other day, I noticed a moment between a Dad and his young son.  His son was half way over the fence that goes around the school and instead of growling “Get down!” he said: “Don’t worry, I won’t let you fall.  Take my hand.  You can do this.”  Why would a parent help their young child climb the fence instead of immediately getting them off of it?  After all, it’s bad form to climb fences at school.  I noodled this thought for the rest of the day… and then it hit me.

We help our children grow their confidence, competence and creativity every time we let them explore, try and stretch.  We, their parents, are helping our kids become future leaders by modeling leadership. 

Of course, at work, most leaders are not working with their children but they can encourage, support and love their people enough to let them to grow too. Modeling leadership grows future leaders because we are no longer dictating, we’re empowering others to step up into their personal leadership.  The best leaders have mastered the art of being present and letting go.  It’s not a sign they don’t care, it’s letting go of control in favor of helping others gain control over their lives, choices and actions.

Leaders let their people make the climb because they believe that they can do it… and fully know that they can survive a fall, get up, and try again. 

I’ve Got You

It’s scary when we feel like we’re caught at the top of the fence all on our own.  We’re up so high all we can think about is how much the fall will hurt.  I’ve worked for leaders that said that they had my back, and they didn’t behind closed doors.  I’ve also worked for leaders that defended my every action even if it’s not the one that they would have personally taken because they we’re 100% on my side.

Ask yourself: How do you show up 100% for your people at work, in your family or in the community?

Leaders believe that we’re in it together.  You fall, I fall. You succeed, we succeed.  (Click to Tweet)

Take My Hand

Climbing the fence may feel impossible, but when someone’s hand reaches out to us to help, we suddenly realize that we are stronger together and can make the leap.  Working late, tough challenges, even crises feel more do-able when we’re not alone.  You don’t have to be the boss to extend your hand, by the way.  Be the friend, mentor, colleague, parent, sibling that makes a difference by offering support and being present.

Ask yourself:  When was the last time you saw someone struggling and chose to look away thinking “not my problem?”

  • Leaders extend their hand every time they ask “How can I help?
  • Leaders extend their hand through scheduled 1x1s with their team members
  • Leaders extend their hand when mentoring and coaching is a priority
  • Leaders extend their hand when they are on our side in words and action
  • Leaders extend their hand and show us that they care about who we are and not only what we do

You’ve Got This

There comes a time when the books, suggestions and methodologies that we’ve learned for years melt into the background as we learn to own the learning and take responsibility our experience.  My kids can climb to the top of the play structure because they’ve already mastered getting there halfway.  I can’t airlift them to the top to make it easier on them.  They have learned how and it’s up to them to take it further, not me.  Part of the joy is in the journey – if I’m always doing and deciding for them, it becomes my journey, not theirs.

It’s not enough that someone tells you “you’ve got this!”  You’ve got to believe it too. (Click to Tweet)

Our kids become leaders when we give them the knowledge and let them make choices.  The same holds true for the people on our teams.  Mentors, coaches and other leaders, talking us through the steps to get to the other side, help immensely but it’s up to each one of us to own it and ultimately make the leap.

Ask yourself: When do you step in and when do you stay out to let people move from learning to leading?

Every time we overcome an obstacle, we’re putting money in the confidence bank to help us tackle the next one. (Click to Tweet)

That little boy, learning to climb a fence, will likely never remember that moment in time – his first climb.  However, he will likely remember the feeling of what it was like to doubt that he could make it over safely only to learn that by calling forth his courage, he had what it would take all along.

How do you help people successfully make the leap over the many fences that they come across every day? What does modeling leadership mean to you?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Chery Gegelman September 17, 2013 at 6:58 am

Alli – I love this post! It immediately made me think of a co-worker I had years ago that was old enough to be my mother. She had that same style. (And was very quickly adopted by many of us as an additional mother.) She identified each of our strengths with ease and very naturally encouraged each of us to maximize those strengths in ways we had never dreamed of. It is so easy to imagine her lifting children up on a fence and telling them,“Don’t worry, I won’t let you fall. Take my hand. You can do this.”

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Alli Polin September 17, 2013 at 7:58 am

Chery,

She sounds amazing. Talk about a leadership legacy – helping people discover their strengths and inspiring them to do more and be more than they thought possible before your meeting. You’re lucky you crossed paths with her. You bring that same belief in the goodness and gifts of others to the work that you do. I appreciate you!

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Dave Bratcher September 17, 2013 at 7:11 am

This is so timely for me as the parent of two small children. That moment where you think they are about to get hurt, but allow them to explore while being ready to catch them if they fall. I love the tie to the workplace. This is something we need to do much more of and the trend within organizational leadership is much more “alongside” than from “the top down”. An extended hand is a great image for what it means to lead.

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Alli Polin September 17, 2013 at 8:03 am

Dave,

You’re right. When we lead not from the front, but alongside, we’re learning, encouraging, creating, and inspiring real time… together. This Dad wasn’t coaching from the sidewalk while checking his phone, he was right there, with his son letting him know that they’re in it together but the work was his… move his leg, hold on, you can do it. That’s leadership.

Thanks so much for your comment and insights!

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Jon Mertz September 17, 2013 at 7:26 am

Alli,

Key insights! In exploring, we discover. In letting someone explore, they discover. All done with support when needed. This is also an important insight for leaders of any age. We can never stop exploring. There are new personal discoveries to be found; we need to climb a new fence to see it.

Excellent job! Thanks.

Jon

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Alli Polin September 17, 2013 at 8:01 am

You put into a nutshell what took me far too many words to express… exploration leads to discovery and learning – we can do that for people, they have to do it for themselves. Also – great addition… as leaders WE need to continue to explore and grow.

Many thanks!

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Lalita Raman September 17, 2013 at 10:34 am

Excellent post Alli. I don’t watch TV that often but recently started watching a Hindi (Indian) soap opera. I started watching months after it had started but what tempted me to watch was when one of the days the TV was on and I happened to catch a glimpse of this girl, may be 7-8 years old asking questions, and her never ending quest to be curious. She explores, questions, and her never ending curiosity is amazing. In one of the recent episodes, her brother is missing and I love the way she goes back to basics and traces back the time till her brother was there with her on the way to school. The analysis she uses is simple but outstanding. Kids do need guidance but allowing them to explore, be curious and push themselves to challenge themselves is what we as adults need to let. The same goes with adults, if only we believed in others not only in words but also by our behavior and actions, it will go a long way to go that extra step.

Lovely post and one I relate to Alli.

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Alli Polin September 17, 2013 at 10:34 pm

When we follow our curiosity, we discover things about ourselves and the world that were previously unknown no matter our age. Absolutely love that you shared this story because she was not too young or too inexperienced to be curious about something that was truly important and make a big difference. Holds true for children, parents, and leaders.

Thank you!

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Kaarina Dillabough September 17, 2013 at 11:37 am

I’ll always help someone climb the fence :) Cheers! Kaarina

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Alli Polin September 17, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Kaarina, I know you do and will – always. :)

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Blair Glaser September 17, 2013 at 11:49 am

Giving space to others — to let them explore, lead their own way and risk failure — is such a profound way to create leaders. Thanks for your insights and another great post!

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Alli Polin September 17, 2013 at 10:28 pm

If there is only one right way, it means everything else is wrong. Can’t be! Space creates options and possibilities and learning. Thanks, Blair!

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Terri Klass September 17, 2013 at 3:37 pm

What a way to lead, Alli- by taking someone’s hand at first, then letting go! Too often leaders keep holding on more tightly so that we can’t extricate ourselves and do our own exploring.
Modeling ways to welcome new ideas and suggestions can help team members learn to extend their hands without holding on too tightly.
Great post!

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Alli Polin September 17, 2013 at 10:30 pm

It’s so true, Terri! I’ve been there. It becomes a world of do this, not that; say this, not that; include this, not that on and on. Not empowering and certainly not leaving the space for creative, inspired decision makers! Exploring enables us to see the world with wonder, not only in terms of black and white.

Always appreciate your insights on leadership!

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Gilly September 17, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Alli -I love this post. As an educator helping students with learning differences we always began with what we called scaffolding to support and nurture our students and then gradually removed that scaffolding to increase their confidence and independence. From your blog post it seems great leaders do exactly that. It’s a success recipe for parenting, teaching and leading -universally empowering.
Gilly

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Alli Polin September 17, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Gilly, You have no idea how touched I am by your comment. Scaffolding. What a way to learn, empower, grow and build trust in ourselves but it doesn’t need to stick around forever because when the time is right, the scaffolding can go and we are strong.

Appreciate you tremendously!!

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Leena Malik September 17, 2013 at 7:55 pm

This is an inspiring post Alli. So many times I see leaders forgetting the “lead” in leadership, they get so hung up on the title and the status of being a leader that they forget what leadership is all about which is – helping others forward, imparting accountability, and being a cheerleader for their success.

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Alli Polin September 17, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Leena,

First of all, thank you for reading and commenting! Means a lot to me!

You’re right, it becomes more about the title of leader than about leadership for many people. Love how you put it: helping others forward. It’s not really about us and our smarts and our skills… it IS about showing others that they’ve got what it takes to truly be a success as individuals and as a team.

Appreciate your insights and thanks again for sharing them here!

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Kneale Mann September 20, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Hey Alli, another great post, right from real life, which you do so well!

I was facilitating a client workshop this week and it was interesting how often phrases like “mitigate risk” and “we need to be careful” and “senior leadership is nervous”, came up. This isn’t to suggest we put ourselves or our teams into harm’s way but we can hurt ourselves not taking any chances.

Twenty years ago, back working in the corporate world, I messed up big time. The legitimate grounds for dismissal while hauling my team behind in a trailer kind of messed up. The here’s a box don’t let the door hit the back of your head on your way out kind of messed up. I took my eye off the ball and got sloppy.

I literally typed up my resignation letter to present to my boss. He took it, read it, closed his door, quietly sat down, and said; “No one’s quitting so relax”. He held me accountable and best of all, let me tell my team I was being accountable, we got through it, and no one got fired (or quit).

That two week period, twenty years ago, has been one of my building blocks because I made the mess, I owned the mess, but he showed me a way to fix the mess. That’s leadership.

Nt

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Alli Polin September 24, 2013 at 8:03 am

Kneale,

That story is fantastic and I greatly appreciate that you shared it here. We should all be able to own our messes and fix them without fear. Your boss was amazing and was able to separate the issues and incident from the person. To echo what you wrote: That’s leadership. I 100% agree!

Thanks for sharing!

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