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Would I, Could I, Should I?

I’m going to sharpen my focus for this column. Each week, I will zero in on one of three themes: Leadership, Creativity, or Spirituality. These are my three grand obsessions. They are the large prisms through which I refract the world. Virtually everything I muse on has some touch point in one of these three areas – leadership, creativity, or spirituality – or in all three of them. Indeed, these three things are not separate, not in my head anyway: for me, they braid together so tightly that each intimately touches on the others. But I will, for the sake of clarity and brevity, focus on just one each week.

Today, leadership.

I was talking with someone recently who said that their boss typically gets them to do tasks he’s too afraid to do himself: correct fellow employees, confront exploitative clients, clean up messes.

There’s another word for someone like that: Coward.

This person’s verdict: “I like my boss. I just have zero respect for him.”

Every leader should pay attention here. All who have been given responsibility toward and influence over others – bosses, parents, pastors, teachers, etc. – must steward that responsibility and influence with utmost integrity, humility, industry, and courage. By all means, seek to be liked. But even more, earn respect. Nothing guts influence faster than forfeiting respect.

As I thought about this person’s boss, it struck me that he had committed the fatal error of abdicating responsibility rather than delegating it. The difference is subtle in practice but glaring in effect. It’s the difference between dumping a task on someone because you’re too proud, lazy, or cowardly to do it yourself, versus empowering someone to do a task because, well, they’ll probably do it better than you would anyhow. And it’s your job to help them be great.

No leader worth his or her salt should ever ask anyone to do something they are not willing to do themselves. That is so axiomatic it needs no further argument or defense.

But every leader worth his or her salt must ask people, and often, to do things they best not do themselves. Here’s a short list of such things:

  1. Ask someone to do what you don’t have time or energy for – you could do it and would do it, but it would demand more time or energy than you have.

  2. Ask someone to do what you lack sufficient skill for – you could do it (or maybe not) and would do it, but you’d do it poorly, maybe disastrously.

  3. Ask someone to do what you hired or recruited them to do – you could do it and would do it, but that’s what you brought them to the table for.

  4. Ask someone to do what releases their potential – you could do it and would do it, but it over-extends you and under-develops them.

What would you add to this list?



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