Lead through or learn from

By July 31, 2008Business

At Ashridge we have been conducting research with leaders about what they wish they’d known 10 years ago. One finding has particular resonance with a constituency who suffer from exponentially increasing workloads and growing concern about work life balance. It is about delegation and how to choose what work to do. It is the ‘lead through/learn from’ criterion.

Essentially, leaders shouldn’t ‘do’ anything: they should delegate it all as a guiding principle so that they are free to ‘lead.’ The exceptions to this rule are those tasks through which the leader can be seen to be leading, or those from which they can learn. Too often we do the tasks we like or are good at, or the ones that feel important or that others want us to do. This rule suggests that we should only do the tasks we find it hardest to do so that we might learn from them. After all, supple learning muscles are the first line of defence against an uncertain Red Queen world fraught with new challenges. The other set of tasks we should do are those that provide opportunities for the leader to lead. These tasks might be stacking shelves, taking a media interview, phoning a customer or visiting a site – all things that are delegatable but which can become mouthpieces for culture. I think leaders are like lighthouses. The ships they save rarely come close, but all are led by their light or abandoned by their darkness. Leaders lead through stories and through the personal touch. What have you done today that has crafted the sort of culture you want to stand as your legacy in your organisation?

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