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“The leader’s role is to set the stage not perform on it”

“The leader’s role is to set the stage not perform on it”

When I was about fourteen, I realise with hindsight, that my Dad (pictured with me – he’s 90 and still going strong!) changed the way he parented me.  In fact, there was something of a transformation.  From telling me what to do, nagging me about my every move and rescuing me at every hurdle, he started to draw back.  I am not sure what triggered this shift.  Memory plays tricks, so perhaps the change was more gradual than it seems now.  Maybe he thought I was ready for my rite of passage to adulthood.  During World War II, aged twelve, he was evacuated to a place hundreds of miles from home.  At fifteen he started his apprenticeship at an engineering company.  It is likely that his expectations about standing on your own two feet in your teens were high.
That standing was, for me, at times wobbly and hard (getting on the wrong train carriage on a trip to see my pen-friend in Germany and being stranded at Aachen station throughout the night when the train divided, sticks in my mind).  Of course, Dad was always there to talk things through with, and step in to ease my progress when he thought it was absolutely necessary (he roused a family of startled Germans from their beds with a telegram to explain my lateness and I was relieved to be met at Frankfurt with hugs and kisses many hours later).
Looking back on those times I realise that he gave me the gift of self-sufficiency and the ability to sometimes trust my own judgement (sorry Dad, I’m still working on that one).  Like the best of coaches, mentors and leaders, he let me experiment, make mistakes, learn for myself and work out my own ways of doing things.
I was reminded of this experience when I watched Linda A. Hall deliver her talk on “How to Manage for Collective Creativity”.  It takes a confident and self-aware leader to create spaces where, she says, “everybody’s slices of genius can be unleashed and harnessed into works of collective genius”.
The leaders that I have observed doing this well set up environments where people can experiment and challenge.  They let the people who work with them lead, make decisions and take responsibility.  They facilitate, coach, and mentor, keeping their eye on the bigger picture, enabling and opening doors when they need to.  There is nothing wishy-washy about this style.  These people are assured, confident and driven to deliver results.  Yet, they are comfortable enough to step back, set the stage and let others perform to the very best of their ability.

Watch Linda A. Hill speaking at the TED conference…

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