A Strong Leader Develop Independent People

Tags: Leader, People Development, Professional Leadership

An important role of a Leader is to develop people into better versions of themselves. Developing people is a discipline that all leaders should practise. It’s a discipline, because developing people it does not always come naturally.

Although there are many ways to develop people, the focus of this article is on developing people to be able to function independently from the leader.

A leader has been successful when his/her followers can operate independently.  People must be able to make decisions on their own when the leader is not available. It means that they must be able to face problems and come up with solutions without involving the leader in the solution.

A Weak Leader Makes People Dependant

Imagine the following scenario;

“The leader of a small organization has a very “hands on” approach and prides himself in his problem solving abilities. He is known as the “go to guy” when you have a problem. He is involved in all the decisions and problem solving processes in the organization and feels that he is contributing to the organization and his followers by solving these problems.”

However, the sad truth of this scenario is that this leader is not serving the people at all. Instead he has created a culture of dependence, where people have stopped thinking and rely solely on him to come up with the solutions to problems they face every day. Through his behaviour this leader is stifling the creative genius of the people he leads, by not affording them the opportunity to think and come up with solutions to the problems and challenges themselves.

Not only is he doing his followers a disservice, he is also stifling his own leadership development.  By focussing only on solving other people’s problems, he is neglecting the other areas of leadership, like coaching and setting direction. By being involved in the solution to every problem, he is stealing his own time that could have been used much more productively.

A Strong Leader Train People to Think for Themselves

People need to be trained to think.  It is something that actively needs to be pursued and it is the job of the leader to ensure that people grow by thinking for themselves. It may not be easy at first, especially if there is a culture of dependency where people are not used to come up with solutions or think trough problems.

The leader needs to be available only in a coaching capacity to guide and give advice during the problem solving process.  It is however the individual or group that ultimately needs to come up with a solution, or think through the problem.

The Leader Help People through the Following Process

  • Acknowledgement. The first step in the process is to confirm that there is a problem through the acknowledgement of the stated issue by the person bringing it to your attention. Acknowledgement does not mean you take ownership of the problem. It merely means that you agree that there is a problem that needs attention.
  • Redirecting. The next step is to redirect the problem back to the person or group. This is important as it establishes ownership of the problem. During the redirecting stage it is important to communicate clearly that although you acknowledged the problem, you are not the owner of the problem. The problem is still owned by the person or group raising the issue. It is the responsibility of the problem owner to come up with a solution to it.
  • Guidance. The role of the leader is to guide the person or group through the problem solving process, without getting personally involved. During this stage the Leader needs to lay down definite boundaries for him/herself as well as for the person or group. Guidance means giving direction and advice without getting personally involved in the solution and encouraging people to come up with creative solutions to the problem.
  • Empowerment. The most important part of training people think for themselves is to empower them to make decisions and take the action necessary to resolve the issue at hand.
  • Review. Lastly the learning experienced during the process is entrenched through a process of review. It is important to review the solution to the problem as well as the process of getting to the solution. This is the opportunity for learning from the process and building experience in the group to handle the next challenge with more self-confidence.

Making people dependant on you as a leader is not a sign of strong leadership. It is more likely a sign of weakness in the leader, feeling that he/she will become redundant when people can function without their involvement. However, this cannot be farther from the truth. The purpose of leadership in people’s lives is to help them grow and teach them the value of being able to function independent from the leader, within the framework of the organization.