Leaders are “Developable” – As Are the People They Lead ; A Story about Leadership (and Employee) Development

This is a short, but wonderful story about leadership development.

Take all the words you know – mentoring, coaching; training – and it all boils down to this. A person at work needs to be more… more productive, take more initiative, be more responsible, be more creative, be more diligent… And, to get there, someone has to help that person get there. You know, someone has to lead that person.

Follow the leader.

So, yesterday, I was talking to a person who is in a position of leadership within her organization. She remembers one of my book synopses that dealt with leadership. And she had an employee who was not performing.

She had decided to give up on that employee, until she heard my presentation. And, she said, something just “clicked.” She realized that she had cast this employee aside, at least in her own thinking. She was just waiting for the right time to make a move, and get rid of this employee. But now, she said, maybe she had not given her a chance – and, she had not given her the right kind of help/push/managing/supervising. In other words, she had not invested in this employee. And, she realized, she owed it to her employee to give that a shot. And, she did. And, as she did, her own attitude changed, as did the employee’s. And, wonder of wonders, the employee became a top employee – productive, cooperative, blossoming into more.

In other words, this leader decided to actually lead this employee. And that is almost always what leadership is – leading one person at a time, so that that person can blossom into…more.

The outcome – the employee was truly developed, as was the leader.

Good for this employee – who was, in fact, “developable.” And, good for this leader, who was, in fact, receptive and attentive to what she learned in a leadership training session. She too, it turns out, was “developable.”

You see, leadership development has not succeeded until a person who was not leading in a way that brought out the best an employee has to offer starts bringing out the best an employee has to offer.

It could have been that that employee wasn’t “developable.”  Some people just aren’t. But, the leader had not yet done her job; had not yet invested in her employee – had not given her a chance to develop, with the help she needed to develop. And just a few words in a leadership training session, built around a book synopsis on a good book that talked about the role of the leader, turned the switch, helped her understand, and then become an actual leader.

Until an employee starts getting closer to doing his/her best, there has been no employee development. And, until a person starts leading real people, in a way that brings out the best in them, there has been no leadership development.

So, this is a success story. For the leader; for the employee; for the organization; and for me, the guy who does leadership development presentations. And, I’m pretty sure, I will be telling this story more than a few times.

(And, by the way, this is a pretty good example of the “growth mindset,” talked about by Carol Dweck. The leader could grow; the employee could grow – it is possible to grow!)


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