I was doing fairly well in grades one to three — especially in reading. Then I hit a terrible teacher in grade four. She made school so unhappy and unappealing, she almost caused me to drop out — of course I would have waited another few years to make it official. However, in grades five and six I came under the nurturing of Mrs. Westman. I vividly remember her saying after I’d read a composition to the class; “Someday I won’t be surprised to see your name on a book.” Her encouraging words simmered in my subconscious for years and helped me to see new possibilities for myself. Twenty years later my first book,The VIP Strategy: Leadership Skills for Exceptional Performance, was published. It was a real pleasure to present her with one of the very first copies — inscribed with a warm thank you message. Her family and the local paper ensured that she got the recognition she so richly deserved.
Most people see others as they are, a leader sees them as they could be. Leaders like Mrs. Westman see beyond the current problems and limitations to help others see their own possibilities. It’s a key part of our own growth and development. We continue to grow when we help others grow and develop. That’s the second half of the two-part growing and developing circle. The first part is our own growth and development. We can’t develop others if our own growth is stunted. The two parts of the growing and developing circle depend upon and support each other. We develop ourselves while we’re developing others. By developing others, we develop ourselves further. This allows us to develop others still further — the growth circle spirals ever upward. The reverse is also true. By failing to develop myself and others, my growth and development circle spins downward.
The art of developing others is the art of assisting their self-discovery. The 15th century Italian physicist and astronomer, Galileo put it this way, “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself.” This leads us to the developing-without-teaching paradox. The ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu, described it like this; “Superior leaders get things done with very little motion. They impart instruction not through many words, but through a few deeds. They keep informed about everything but interfere hardly at all. They are catalysts, and though things would not get done as well if they weren’t there, when they succeed they take no credit. And because they take no credit, credit never leaves them.”
Growing and developing others is one of management’s key responsibilities. The traditional view of management is getting work done through people, but strong leaders develop people through work. As managers, team leaders, or team members, we can’t be much help in developing others if we don’t really know where they’re trying to go. Once we understand that, we can work to align their development goals with those of the team or organization. They don’t always match, but generally it’s not too difficult to bring them together.
A similar approach applies to our parental leadership role with teenagers. The deepest love we can show our sons and daughters is to help them discover their unique purpose and uncover their special talents. That can be especially tough if it doesn’t match the dreams we may have for them. Our leadership task is to help them be all that they can be, not what we would like to be if we were in their place.