Don't Just Do Something, Stand There

According to leadership author and researcher Dr. Richard Daft, “one of the most important steps a leader can take to develop effective followers is to accept and acknowledge his or her own limitations and, indeed, his or her inability to accomplish anything without the help of followers. The leader who tries to do it all alone never gets very far.” I have been a fan of Dr. Daft’s writing and that of many other great leadership authors for years. In fact developing followers is something I teach in my leadership classes, and up until 3 months ago, I thought I was pretty good at it. However, something happened in March 2015, which not only revealed a flaw in my character but also my leadership process. It forced me to self-reflect on a key question:

  1. Does my character invite developmental opportunity to those who are optimally motivated to follow or serve me towards the success of my goals?

Three months ago I was learning to play pickle ball (for a complete explanation of this odd yet “fastest growing sport in America” go tohttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pickleball) My wife Jeannie and I were being taught by a more experienced couple how to play the game. To make a long story short, in the middle of our fourth set, I experienced a full rupture of my left Achilles tendon. Being a Canadian in the United States I was anxious to receive my emergency treatment and then get home for the surgery. It was a 3-day drive from California to our home in Alberta. It was a drive I had done often, with Jeannie willingly sitting beside me (I do love to drive long distances). On this journey, however, I had to sit in the back seat with my air-cast elevated, and experience the wonderful opportunity to see my wife transform into this long distance, goal focused driving machine. I got to witness her take on a role I had willingly filled and she had willingly left up to me. What shocked me was three fold:

  1. How much she enjoyed the experience;
  2. How well she did during our overnight stops at taking full responsibility for loading all gear including road bikes and other sundries (while I watched);
  3. How aggressive a driver she became in the pursuit of getting me to my surgeon. Her focus and tenacity was like nothing I had ever seen. Twice I fell just short of having to revert back to my childhood family vacation process of peeing into a Pepsi bottle so dad could achieve his ETA.

Since then I have discovered I do not allow others to serve me well, usually demonstrated by a polite or curt “I can do it myself.”  I discovered that I do not like others doing for me what I can do for myself and I wondered how often I have communicated that to my team members in my various leadership roles, including father. More importantly, does my arrogance or EGO keep others from developing, including my family. Shamefully I think so. Over these last few months I have humbly seen so many people willingly serve me in ways I could never have imagined; Flight attendants, cab drivers, hotel staff and even my associates at the Ken Blanchard Company willingly loading crutches and scooters as they drive me to various destinations while I am visiting. Putting my ego away and allowing my wife to serve me out of love for me, has added a new and cool dynamic to our marriage.

To those for whom my EGO has gotten in the way of their development or desire to serve, I humbly apologize. I have learned that sometimes, in pursuit of being a servant leader we must not loose sight of the fact that there are others out there of great moral character whom are optimally motivated to serve us in the pursuit of our goals.  If we can put away our EGO’s and allow them the space to exercise their gifts it will energize and develop them. As the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland once said: “Don’t just do something stand there”. Sometimes that is the best way to encourage growth and development in others, although you shouldn’t wait for a cast on your leg to find out.