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The Learning Leader: Put Your People Center Stage

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Too often a leader chooses to be the spokesperson for their people's work. Whether a CEO goes solo with her Board, or a creative director pitches his team's ideas to colleagues, they result in the same thing: failing to foster autonomy, learning, and engagement.

Point the spotlight at your people and encourage them to present their business, projects, ideas, problems, etc. Expose them liberally, even to "high stakes" audiences, and you set the conditions to strengthen their capabilities through direct experience and experiential learning. You end up with a stronger team, and you will have done that by being a more secure leader.

In short, move your people from backstage to center stage and you elevate everyone's effectiveness, including your own.

Sounds simple, so what keeps leaders from spotlighting their people?

I've found a number of mindsets that contribute to a leader keeping their people backstage:

I prove my value to the organization by presenting their work.

These may be their ideas, but it's my group. The buck stops with me.

If s/he presents their own work, what's my value?

I had better present this, after all, it's to X (someone important) / The stakes are too high to put him/her on the line for their own work.

I want to protect her/him from being attacked / That project is in trouble; I should take the heat.

If I let them present their own work, I will lose "control"/I would present it better/differently.

What to do about it?

First it's helpful to identify and challenge the offending mindset, whether similar to above or something different: what's holding the keeping-people-backstage behavior in place?

Then with a desire to change, some simple steps, support, and plenty of practice, the behavior can change, in many cases. And once the executive starts gaining experience spotlighting their people, most want more of it.

If you have a tendency to speak on behalf of your team, I challenge you to create more opportunities for them to speak for themselves. Invite them to senior meetings you attend, and be watchful and supportive. Provide kind, necessary, honest, and private feedback after the event, and allow a certain latitude for them to do well, or, if needed, fail small, learn from it, and move on.

Sharing and even yielding the spotlight to your people, you'll find yourself open to being more of a participant with your colleagues, and begin to be recognized not only for what your team can do, but for how you're leading them.

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