A few days back, We were speaking to a someone as part of a  program to assist a group of potential next-gen. leaders about overall growth in their careers. One of the requirements of the program was to come up with a single factor which can contribute the most in achieving the desired growth for everyone. This post is where we are writing about the thought process that went into  this exercise interspersed with our own thoughts, some which were part of the discussions, some which were not.

What does growth mean?

Growth has different meaning for different people. In fact, it has many facets even in case of an individual. The first requirement for such exercise then is to agree to a common definition of growth. Remember, we are talking about leadership roles and that too in purely business context. They certainly can be extended to other environments, but it’s important to keep in mind the background. So what does growth generally mean to potential leaders, especially in business context? We thought about and discussed quite a few changes, but following three are what I believe are applicable generally.

  1. You are now supposed to accomplish more, not only quantitatively but also qualitatively. but you alone can not do it. You have to get others inspired, motivated and generally working towards those objectives. In short, your dependence on others grow.
  2. Your circle of influence expands. What you say and do  affects more people than earlier.
  3. Your thinking is shifting from “Micro” to “Macro” level, from tactical to strategic, from concrete to abstract, from short-term to longer-term.
What’s the impact?

There are two major impacts on you because of the changes above

You are always short of time.

You now have more responsibilities, you are now involved in more activities. There are people coming to you to seek guidance, to validate their ideas, to ensure that what they are doing is correct, to ensure they do not fail. To do justice to those coming to you, you need to ensure that you understand the problem from all angles. There will be a lot of multi-tasking, lot of context switching.  There will be meetings, there will be calls. In short, there will be demands on your time from everywhere.

You are always thinking. 24/7.

When I was responsible for my own output individually, it was easy for me to switch off from work. Put in the required work for the day, and I could go home and get completely involved in other activities. That enabled me to recharge my batteries and be ready for the challenges for the next day.

Once you start growing as a leader, you will find it increasingly difficult to disengage. Most of your time in office will be taken up by tactical activities; meetings, calls, reviews, discussions, emails. However, you now need to contribute in strategic aspects as well. You will also be involved in long-term initiatives. You will be involved in process improvement initiatives. Since you now find the time available in office to be short, when will you think about all this? This is going to start eating up more and more of your time.

The downside

These two impacts further result into another two detrimental consequences.

You become a bottleneck

Work starts stopping at your desk. Tasks remain pending waiting for your decisions. Since you don’t have sufficient time, the backlog continues to grow. Collective productivity of the team starts dropping. As the backlog grows, it adds to your confusion as well, and as a result your own productivity also starts dropping. Instead of being catalyst of grown, you start becoming agent of under-performance.

How will you achieve future growth?

The second consequence is that you don’t get any time to invest in your own future. Where you are today is just a milestone. This is not the end. You have the capabilities to grow further and there is enough room for you to grow too. But how?

There is one more aspect which we need to consider; and that is your personal life. Regular downtime is important to unwind. But since you don’t have time and are always under pressure to perform, you are never in the right mindset to relax. The time that you used to give to the family will also start deteriorating in quality. The overall negative impact on your personal life adds to the challenges professionally.

What about the solution?

Ok…so you might say “enough! All you have been telling us are problems. What was the conclusion that you spoke about? We all know the challenges, but we are really kin to know the factor that you guys came up with?”

To get there, let me tell you a part of a quote from Lao Tzu;

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.

And that’s what formed the basis of our conclusion. In order to be a good leader, and effective growth agent, to grow personally and professionally, you need to let go. You need to let go of unnecessary control, you need to let go of your distrust in your people, you need to let go of your own anxieties and insecurities, which force you to jump into every situation to set it right. It’s about ensuring that you act more as observer rather than active contributor. You need to remove yourself out of the equation to ensure you have enough breathing room to grow. This brings scalability. This allows you to move on to larger, better things.

All right; you might again say that I am talking in hyperboles. So let’s get specific about what you can do. There are three major areas where generally you can make changes.

  1. Defining priorities clearly and communicating them to everyone. When you are in the day-to-day grid, a lot of prioritization decisions are left till the last moment. And even then, instead of prioritization, you might be telling your team what work should they do next. The team does not have a sense of direction, and as a result, they can not prepare themselves for the long haul.
  2. Once you set your priorities, it’s only logical that you let the team decide how do they want to achieve those. Let them take most of the decisions – big and small. They might face issues, they might meet with a couple of failures. But remember, you also had your fair share of failures. Don’t be afraid, people will also find ways to recover from their mistakes, and that will only make them better. Once they start making wiser decisions, it’s only going to help you scale more.
  3. Same is true for execution. Resist the temptation to overtake the meetings, discussions, presentations when their style does not match yours. I know the feeling! I have been there. I used to have irresistible urge to intervene when the speed of my team members presentation did not match my usual speed. I had to fight hard to get over that urge. But that’s very essential. You will need to accept that people have different styles, and overall, they can be equally effective as you – if not more. I am sure your style was also different from your parents, teacher and bosses.

Seeing your team managing your operations is a delight. Not to mention it allows you to pursue your next endeavour. Setting the team free to their path of achievements is the biggest (and possibly only) reward for a leader. And to achieve that, Let go!