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Perhaps, you have been challenged to think about “the best leader you have ever known” when participating in a leadership conference or team building exercise. The facilitator will typically begin writing characteristics on a white board so that participants can visualize traits they want to incorporate into their own leadership.   

While it is certainly more forward thinking to think about the leader we want to be, at the same time, it may be worthwhile to also think about the leader we never want to be.

Leaders never want to micro-manage. This behavior is ineffective in growing other leaders. It doesn’t empower a person to use their skills, strengths and gifts to grow. Micro-management actually causes decision-making skills to atrophy. To become good decision makers, those we lead have to be entrusted to make decisions and learn from the consequences of those decisions. If the outcome is positive, then the emerging leader experiences success on which to build. If the outcome is negative, then valuable lessons to guide future decision making is learned. That is not to say that the leader should never be directive, but instead, carefully choose which issues to pursue and where to let others take the lead. Leaders that empower others grow more leaders.

Leaders never want to disengage. Allowing others to make decisions does not mean the leader disengages. Think about learning to fly a plane. Does anyone ever learn to fly by sitting in the jump seat and never touching the controls? Of course not. The jump seat is a great place to begin, but if one is to learn to fly, the move to the pilot’s seat is essential. Touching the controls is essential. This is the opportunity for the leader to move from the pilot’s seat to the navigator’s seat. The leader still charts the course and makes important adjustments as needed, but holding it loosely allows someone else to fly the plane. Accessible and engaged leaders help other leaders grow.

Leaders never want to discourage. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, was fond of saying, “Who needs encouragement? Anyone who is still breathing.” What do great coaches do? They encourage their players by believing in them. They cast a vision for who the player can become. They create motivating environments and teach lessons that encourage success. They constantly make little tweaks to the plays and the execution to ensure success. They are not only tenacious about winning, but also focus on the relationships with the players themselves as individuals and as a team. They have a clear set of values for the team and they lead by example in order to demonstrate those values. Great coaches and great leaders don’t lead with fear, but with vision. They don’t threaten or belittle, but instead build up players. They constantly express belief in their players and limit criticism to the execution, not the worth of the player. Encouraging leaders build great teams.

Empowering, engaging and encouraging leaders create followers. Empowered, engaged and encouraged followers help create great organizations. Carefully examine the leader you never want to be to help you discern the leader you always want to be.

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