There are many definitions of leadership. My bias is that leadership is best evidenced through the development, evolution and tangible success of those one has the privilege to lead. Many years ago, I wrote this on my office white board: “The residue of one’s leadership lies in the hearts and minds of others.”
In simple terms, that observation reinforces the notion that the leader’s vote counts the least. I can claim to be an effective leader, but the perceptions and experiences of my team provide the hard evidence. Likewise, I can claim to be an effective spouse, but you’d really have to ask my wife; I may see myself as “father of the year,” but my two sons have the feedback that matters; My effectiveness and value as a friend and colleague? You’d have to ask my friends and colleagues.
A recent restructuring in my organization resulted in the promotion of one of my direct reports to Senior VP, making her an executive level peer. As a student of behavior, I found it fascinating (albeit predictable, given people’s tendency towards scarcity and loss framing) that several close colleagues asked “how I was doing” in the wake of the change. I responded with my own question: “What is more flattering than seeing someone you have coached, mentored, supported and deeply care for achieve notable success in their career?
The promotion was a confirmation of the leadership philosophy I’ve shared with many over the years: The best leaders surround themselves with people who are brighter, more talented, more creative, more courageous and willing to take even greater risks than they do. That approach results in high performance, development, individual fulfillment and gives the leader the opportunity to “live in the present, with an eye on the future.” Anything less represents a diminishment of one’s obligation as a leader.
The residue you leave becomes the source of insight, personal development and focus for ongoing development within your team. In our culture, the most important competency is “self-management.” If everyone in the organization tends to the task of continually improving the only person in the world they control, life gets better – and leaders get developed.
Finally, a high functioning, shared leadership environment is one where the formal leaders are harder to spot, since we all take turns and step up, as required. The role of the leader is to be able to demonstrate situational adaptability: Flexing one’s attitude when needed, while building a versatile skill set.
High functioning leaders also know when to act as a learner and follower. That means stepping back, listening to and learning from others. I have a new teacher now. She was a valued team member, who I now proudly regard as a peer, coach and mentor. That’s the residue of leadership.