How to thrust leadership upon them

Shakespeare once wrote, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” In leadership theory and practice, all apply.Our primary goal as a leader is to make more leaders. This is no easy thing to do. After all, many people we see who have talent might not step up to lead. During our development, some people are lucky enough to have been captain of a school team, achieved the rank of Eagle Scout or been mentored by a caring adult, while others were busy obtaining their 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his great book, “Outliers.”This month, the panel considered the breakthrough that people experience when they have realized that they can lead. It is a breakthrough, a moment when they hear their own voice, realize that they have something to contribute, understand that they want to be part of solutions.I have the pleasure of mentoring graduate students through their thesis, and this is a meaningful period for them and me. Usually at the beginning of the thesis process, students have lots of insecurities about what is expected. They ask lots of questions about approach, how to do research, what to write about.My answer to them is always the same, “I don’t know.”What I am looking for is the student to break out of doing what is expected and begin telling me what they want to do. I want them to say, “I got this.” Only then will they enter flow and get lost in their ideas. Once this is achieved, the writing is easy, and the rest is following a process that will communicate their ideas.In human development there are many models that emphasize this shift from doing what is expected to creating. It’s also a moment when we realize that there are no absolute answers, only more questions. And if there are no absolute answers, then no one really corners the market on knowledge or ideas. This is a shift to “my ideas are as good as anyone else’s.”So the question becomes, how do I as a professor help students along towards this self-awareness, and how do you as a leader help your most promising people towards true leadership?The panel agreed: by letting go of control and resisting the temptation to give them the answers. As leaders, we are very good at directing, cutting to the chase, and giving the order, and we need to allow others the time and space to work through problems. We need to get others past the “what do you want boss?” to “this is a solution boss.” This sometimes requires us taking a deep breath.Consider the following items to create leadership: • Wait for the opportunity that they bring to you. It usually comes in the form of a question or an idea. Resist the temptation to answer and begin a dialogue that further develops the question. Turn the question around and help them deconstruct both the question and the answer. Once they come up with a few approaches (and these approaches will eventually be aligned with what you would have told them anyway), set them on a path to further their idea. • Let them own the solution, and show that you support them. If they own it, it will mean more to them. This is as basic as having the artist sign their own work. If their name is on it, the solution will become part of them. • Allow mistakes to happen. This is sometimes difficult for us because we don’t want to waste time and resources. Yet, we learn from falling off the bike a few times how to keep it balanced. When they overcome the failure, they are empowered with an experience that is embedded in the solution. The failure and ultimate success reinforces that exploration is OK, and that falling down has value. • Since they own the solution, let them present it and put it to work. Presenting is hard, but getting through a presentation is exhilarating. When the idea turns into action, profits and furthering the mission, have them take the applause.There will be times of anguish, confusion and frustration. This is when you encourage and reinforce that they are on the right track. Tell them stories about how you get through things, and that you can relate. Then push them back out there.Under the direction of Dr. Russ Ouellette, managing partner of Sojourn Partners, Bedford, The Future of Everything Project brings together panels of thought leaders from diverse backgrounds to brainstorm, collaborate and proactively craft a vision of “what can be.” Project participants on this topic included Jeff Eisenberg, president of Eisenberg Vital & Ryze Advertising, and Nelly Lejter, dean of graduate and professional studies at New England College. Ouellette can be reached at 603-472-8103 or