In an Inc.com blog, Geoffrey James offers unique insight on true leadership by saying that true leadership doesn’t mean telling people what to do. Instead, it is all about making oneself necessary as a leader.
Many people believe that “leadership” means getting out there and telling people what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The true goal of leadership is to make yourself unnecessary.
I know that sounds completely crazy, but I’m completely serious.
Here’s what hugely-successful venture capitalist Mitchell Kerztman told me back when he was the CEO of PowerSoft:
I am the reverse of the Peter Principle. When I started the company, it was a one-man business. There was a time when I did every job in this company. I wrote the programs, I sent out the bills, I did the accounting, I answered the phone, I made the coffee.
As the company has grown, I do fewer and fewer of those jobs. And that’s just as well, because I was certainly less competent at them than most of the people who are doing them now.
I’m the reverse of the Peter Principle in the sense that I’ve finally risen to my level of competence, which is that I don’t do anything very well and now what I do extremely well is nothing.
The idea that the true goal of leadership is the ability to do nothing is encapsulated by the Taoist term wu wei which has two meanings: “action without action” and “action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort.”
In the classic “The Art of War,” the author Sun Tzu expresses wu wei by pointing out that great generals are reserved, calm and detached, rather than hotheads or busybodies.
The same thing is true for all great leaders.
Great leaders recruit people who are so talented that they need no guidance and can handle problems and disagreements on their own, without requiring the great leader to intervene.
To use a somewhat overused (but nevertheless profound) term, great leaders “empower” people to make their own decisions.
If you truly empower people, you are no longer needed as a decision-maker. You make yourself unnecessary.
When you’ve successfully accomplished this goal, only then you can expand your influence and take on new responsibilities (and once again strive to become unnecessary).
If you don’t make yourself unnecessary, you’ll be stuck, as a leader, at the same level, riding herd on the same people.
Gary Wandschneider is the mind behind A View from the Front Row, a leadership module focused on developing leaders and creating high-performing teams. Follow this Facebook page for more tips on how to harness your leadership potential.