The words leadership and fear seem to be in direct contradiction with one another, yet if we are honest and authentic, I believe most leaders would admit that there is something they fear, or of which they are at least a little intimidated. One fear that I have often witnessed among leaders is the fear of allowing - even encouraging - people to out-shine them. Let me explain a little more what I mean through a personal story.
My husband (Steven) and I enjoy the sport of running. While we are not exceptional athletes, we both are committed and consistent. A new person came into our running world a few years ago, on a brisk fall Saturday morning. Every Saturday morning in October a group of crazy people begin training for the Charlottesville 10 Miler. This year was no different - except for our new friend Mike, who was not a runner; in fact, this was his first attempt at training. As the months went by, our friendship with Mike grew into one of value, held in high regard; however, something else happened during this training. Mike discovered in his mid-50s that he has a natural talent for running.
After completing his first 10 miler at a much better pace than he anticipated, he went on to run a half marathon. He did that so well and with such ease that he decided to run a marathon. This year he ran the Boston Marathon and had a record PR (personal record). The point of this story is that there was a time when Steven and I were better runners than Mike. While we are committed runners, we do not have the talent and passion that Mike has discovered within himself. Yet through all of this, we have maintained a strong friendship and continue to support and encourage Mike as he surpasses us.
There are strong parallels here between our friendship with Mike (and not being threatened by his success) and leaders being able to let those in their lives move beyond what they only dream of accomplishing. It’s easy to let pride get in the way and become uncomfortable being around someone who was once a “novice”, but who is now better than you. Or perhaps you can allow yourself to have a paradigm shift and see the influence you had in this person’s life. As Mike discovered his hidden talent, Steven and I encouraged and supported him to pursue it more… until he was way past us.
A great mentor in my life, Yvonne Black, always said to me, “put people around you who are better than you and don’t be afraid of that.” This is something I strive to live into. I admit there are times I have to remind myself that this is not a threat. Just as it is with our children, wanting them to go further than we have ever gone, so it should be with those we lead. Our ceiling should be their floor. “The key to change, is to let go of fear,” Rosanne Cash.
So, what have you done to move past the “fear” in leadership and encouraged someone you lead to become all they possibly can – even if that means passing you up for a promotion?