What Happens When the Training Wheels Never Come Off?
If you were to disappear tomorrow, could those you influence continue to carry on without you? What about if you were to disappear six months from now? A year?
Once, at a Chick-fil-A leadership meeting, my peers and I were asked to each share one goal for the coming year.
Mine was a bit of a head-scratcher for some:
Within the year, I want to become irrelevant in my current position on our team.
You see, our situation was such that my position was crucial. Without my engagement, the team would struggle to maintain the same quality of service at night.
I know some leaders would be proud of that—but I am not.
Most leaders know that their job is to inspire a group of individuals to act. What most leaders miss is the potential to inspire individuals to act whether the leader is present or not.
A leader paves the way, taking his followers with him along the path, but many leaders neglect training the team to go on without them.
“Too many times, leaders build an environment where the training wheels never completely come off.”
(Most) parents know there will come a day when their children must take risks and make decisions without their guidance. Knowing this, they gradually give their children more freedom, responsibility, and in time the training wheels are taken off.
When a leader neglects to do the same, a team's growth becomes limited—only moving forward when the leader does so first, and guides the way.
The Problem With “Indispensible” Leadership
Many leaders build a culture that requires their presence, making them indispensable—but also limiting the growth of their team.
In his book, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't, Simon Sinek describes a culture like this within Citigroup, shortly before the economic crises of 2008.
The culture was one of “indispensable” leadership, where people kept important information to themselves to curb the success of others and ensure their position on the team.
Managers deliberately left crucial practices out of training materials, encouraging new staff to occasionally fail—so as not to rise too quickly to the top.
The end result was devastation, both to the company and the economy as a whole.
This is an extreme example, of course, one where an every-man-for-himself mentality became the standard mindset of each member of the team—but it started somewhere.
Isn't it possible that it all began when a single leader put their ego before the needs of the team?
A Leader's Legacy
Many leaders speak of their legacy—the positive change that took place under their watchful eye.
I believe there is a greater legacy—a continued pursuit of excellence which continues long after a leader has left his role.
Imagine a young man who has failed out of college, has no job and spends his time sleeping, doing drugs, and blaming everyone else for his problems. He continues like this for years, bumming off family and friends while refusing to take responsibility for himself.
Now, imagine that his parents—despite the fact that they know all of this—proudly tell everyone they know, “When he was young, we raised him right. He was the perfect child. We did our job well.”
Would that not seem strange to you?
“A leader's calling? Prepare for what comes next—for themselves, and for those on their team.”
When a leader cares only of his followers while he leads them, and does not prepare them for a future on their own, he does them an injustice.
Not only will he limit the team's continual growth, he is likely to limit his own—creating an environment where he couldn't leave if he tried.
That's not the environment you want. Like a parent, you must prepare them for the day when the training wheels will eventually come off.
How can you help your team grow even after you move on?