“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” — Nelson Mandela
This quote from Nelson Mandela succinctly captures what I have learned to be a critical key to successful leadership. When I look back over my past 35 plus years working in international development, and now as President and CEO of Chemonics, I am reminded how the success of a leader is dependent on trusting others and others trusting me. And, I know, this trust that is placed in a leader, including in me, is a precious commodity that is hard earned and can be easily lost. For that reason, every year, I take stock and look at what is going well, and what I want to build on. Here are three leadership lessons that I have used to gauge my progress:
1. Trusting Others to Perform
To build a strong, performing team, you must communicate and demonstrate that you trust them. I believe in giving others more responsibility and stepping out of the way to allow them the space to grow and learn. I seek out those within the organization that are ready for new challenges – whether they have volunteered themselves, or I’ve seen the potential in them — and encourage them to stretch their comfort zone in a healthy way. Most importantly I have learned that when I don’t trust others to perform I often end up doing their job for them. To avoid this, I am careful to delegate important projects to the right people and try to avoid stretching people beyond what they can do. My role as a leader is to make sure they have opportunities but also the safety net to succeed.
One easy way to earn trust is to show that what others think matters. So, I’m often heard asking, “What do you think?” When it comes to issues, especially those in which they play a regular role, I make sure to ask them what they think, what solutions or ideas they would offer, and how they might do things differently. By asking for their ideas and answers, you show you trust them and value their input.