Lead by Getting Out of the Way

Sometimes leading with bold grace means getting out of the way and allowing the organization to regenerate. ~Kathryn Scanland

Photo by Tim Wilson on Unsplash

I work with numerous organizations at the same time. Today, I asked myself “What is holding X organization back from moving forward and really thriving?” Then I started to ask that same question about other organizations. Remarkably, I had the same answer. Someone needs to get out of the way so that the organization can regenerate.

What do I mean by regenerate?

The idea of “regenerative” is not new; it’s being applied to everything from medicine to agriculture. From an organizational perspective, I view regenerate as the ability to regrow or be renewed through a mindset of collaboration, creativity, and contribution both internally and externally. It’s recognizing that whether you are leading a team or an entire organization, your work is more systemic than separate, more integrated than independent.

Here are just three examples of how I see leaders getting in the way and preventing regeneration.

A leader who’s trying to identify their own successor. The number one job of a leader is to develop other leaders. But please note that leaders is plural. If a leader focuses on developing one specific “successor,” they leave a lot to chance that could go wrong. And whether they do it consciously or not, I’ve seen time and again leaders who try to replicate themselves when they choose their own successor. They prevent regeneration.

Someone who has been in their position long enough and their “well’ of what they can contribute has run dry. This example comes in many varieties. It’s the person who makes the same suggestion at nearly every meeting; there’s no new creativity. Or, the person who shows up for meetings but doesn’t say much of anything; they have little to contribute. For some their well runs dry rather quickly and for others it may take years or maybe even decades. We all need to be more aware of our “well” of contribution and not feel disloyal or guilty if it’s time for us to lead by getting out of the way.

Leaders with internal tunnel vision. These leaders excessively focus internally on “their world”—their team, their department, or their organization. They don’t acknowledge that their work is integrated with other parts of a larger system, whether that system is inside or outside their organization. Not collaborating and contributing outside of “their world” is preventing regeneration.

How might we be getting in the way?

My intention is not to encourage job hopping or quitting every board or committee you’re on. It is to encourage all of us to consider how we might be getting in the way of regeneration and think more creatively and collaboratively about how we can best contribute. Acknowledging, there does come a time when the best contribution we can make is to act with bold grace and lead by getting out of the way.

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