Contributed by Brent Williams
Recently I had the pleasure of networking with a rising leader of one of the largest CSI Chapters in the country. He, like many rising professionals, is trying to juggle the varied elements of a career, family and the responsibilities of leading a group of professionals in an increasingly demanding business world. Just like a lot of the leaders that I speak with, he’s suffering a significant amount of burnout. He wants to succeed at everything, he cares and he’s trying, but he feels like he’s fighting a losing battle. And while he’s a member of my professional association, he could be a member of just about any member-based association in today’s economy.
This particular leader is burning out for a number of reasons. He’s stressed, overworked, and because the team that surrounds him isn’t engaged and involved, he’s trying to do all the heavy lifting himself. Some of his team are on the way out early - they just can’t balance the demands. His team isn’t engaged because the previous leaders weren’t engaged and enrolled in the vision, primarily because leaders before them hadn’t created or clearly defined the long-term plan. Those leaders were likely failed because of the changes that were brought on by the economic downturn, such as fewer training opportunities, less availability from national staff and less guidance from more experienced members, because they, like many of us, struggle with the very same time demand issues.
In offering him some experience sharing, I explained that the two best tool sets that a Chapter leader can deploy are credit reversal and long-term strategy. While these two tools are powerful in an association setting, they also are impactful in business and parenting, where the ability to help others learn to lead is paramount.
Let me explain.
We all, know as leaders, that running a chapter is tough, but not the hardest thing that we’ve ever done. Things can go wrong, but those things are rarely “big and hairy”. Experience comes in really handy here, for newer folks are afraid to take initiative and lead out of the fear that “something might go wrong”. This isn’t just a problem for association groups, businesses are struggling under the weight of younger hires who are terrified to “make a mistake” in the eyes of the boss. There is no single more powerful business leadership technique than the following simple skill.
The way you build strong, effective and energetic leaders is simple; you need to give credit and take responsibility. Find a project or task that needs to be done and offer it to a young professional with this caveat: “If you do this thing, I’ll make you famous. I’ll give you all the credit, I’ll help you and teach you…and if anything goes wrong, I’ll take all the blame”.
Who can say no to that? Besides, you know instinctively, how bad can “bad” possibly be? Even if things blow up, you’re an experienced leader. You know that you can step in and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, so help the new kids taste success…they’ll get addicted, really, really quickly and they’ll come back and ask for more, because they like getting the credit.
Once you have folks engaged and enrolled in what you’re working on, then you can start to choose these tasks based on your long-term strategic plan…and you’ve absolutely got to have a long-term plan, because without the big targets in mind, the little decisions are really tough to make. If you don’t have one, corner your leadership team and throw some strategic darts at a dart board, if nothing else, but get something on paper. Decide where the chapter needs to be in 5 years…and be brutal about it. Make big, hairy, audacious guesses. It’s all going to get revised each year, anyway.
Having a strategic plan makes deciding what needs to be done on a daily basis easy. Think of it as your roadmap. Until you know that your final destination is, say, Nashville, you don’t have any idea which way to turn at the end of your own street.
If you’ll take the time to start doing some strategic planning and learn that true leaders give credit freely, but always take what little blame there is, you’ll have an outstanding organization that is consistently winning awards.
Also, once you start to put these strategies into action, share the wealth. Connect with leaders of other chapters and groups in your immediate area. Look for those people that seem to naturally excel at executing these tasks and engage them as higher-level leaders. Record what works and what doesn’t and constantly document your best practices, so that you can pass what you’ve learned on to the next generation of leaders.
While it’s understood that our connected economy is only going to continue accelerating, you’ve got to think strategically, see the long-term picture and act in a way that grow the people around you. If you make a few “heroes”, those folks will eagerly let you guide them to a far better future for your organization. In business, helping others quickly learn problem solving and leadership skills can make the difference between success and failure, so adapting these simple skills to your association, your business and your life will allow you to multiply your leadership skills.
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