Scaling leadership by Letting Go
I was recently talking to an entrepreneur worried about the stage of development of his company.
His huge sense of responsibility in sitting in the driver’s seat of the company led him to invest lots of time and energy in becoming an increasingly effective decision maker, innovation driver, team leader to hit increasingly ambitious targets.
Yet, he somehow felt he was now reaching his plateau and he was not able to go any further.
Very understandably, he was leveraging strengths that had been his keys to success up to know. His high drive, deep technical knowledge, business acumen, decisiveness, ability to cut through complexity have helped him to build a strong company and become a successful entrepreneur. But these same skills didn’t seem to be helpful in going further.
And why is it? Research shows that, after a certain point, in order to multiply the impact of their own talent, leaders need to do so together with and through others, thus developing other people's talents.
In their book Scaling Leadership¹, Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams state: “Scale can only be achieved by developing capacity and capability in others. Effective leaders develop other leaders”, and when they are not able or willing to do so, they become a bottleneck and a limiting growth factor.
What differentiates truly exceptional leaders is the mastery of relational skills.
The research presented in the book highlights in fact that the Top liabilities of High-Reactive Leaders (who achieve low levels of leadership effectiveness overall) are around people skills: High-Reactive Leaders are for example described as having ineffective interaction styles, not being team players, micro-managing their teams…
Interestingly enough, these same dimensions are also the most endorsed skills for High-Creative leaders with high overall leadership effectiveness. Creative leaders are described as great team builders and people developers, caring, empowering, great listeners…
The most important lesson I am thus sharing with this entrepreneur, is that in order to scale his leadership, he might need to stop asking himself what he could do more or better of, and stop overplaying the strengths that brought him here. Instead, he should start asking himself what he could do less of and what he could actually let go, by letting other people take turns in sitting in the driver’s seat and giving them space to express their leadership. (on this topic, check out also my Blog “Letting go of old leadership habits- The trap of control”)
The journey he is starting is not for the faint hearted, it requires deep openness and vulnerability, but for anyone starting such a journey I leave you with a powerful quote from Scaling Leadership: “You have nothing to lose except your ego”
¹ Anderson, Robert J. and Adams, William A. (2019), Scaling Leadership: Building organizational capability and capacity to create outcomes that matter most. Wiley
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