Empowering Leadership

Empowering Leadership
Nicole Bickett, Class of 2014
Chief Administrative Officer, Mainstreet

I recently heard the statement, “We aren’t leaders until we can develop leaders that can develop leaders.” It reminded me of one of my first experiences with empowering leaders. I was a 19 year-old counselor at a YMCA camp in southern Indiana. I had been more of an “inside girl” most of my life and was being challenged by leading a group of kids in the woods, lakes and meadows. During counselor training I was asked to teach others how to blaze a trail. I didn’t enjoy getting cut by branches--nor did I really know what tools to use--and became aggravated when my clearing efforts didn’t go as fast as I wanted them to. I expected the leaders to get frustrated with me, but instead, they were encouraging and patient. They could have done it faster themselves; they could have said, “She should know how to do this since we hired her for this job” and then let me succeed or fail. Instead they waited for me to get through my frustration and encouraged positive thought. Then they helped me refine the skills I needed. At the end of the summer I was so comfortable outdoors that I taught the kids in my cabin the skills I had learned that summer with confidence. And though there may have been initial frustration, the kids succeeded in growing new skills they may have never thought possible.

Now, as a leader in a growing, entrepreneurial company, I think about who we are hiring and how I (and other leaders in the company) can inspire hope and empowerment in our people. Here are a few tenets that I live by:
1) Find the right people. You don’t need to hire people with all the skills for a role; you need to hire learners that want to challenge themselves and get uncomfortable. It is only when you push against your comfort zones that you grow. Find people that you think could be better than you are in your job. You will learn and grow from them as well.
2) Allow failure and encourage it. As I often tell my kids, “You learn much more from your failures than you do your successes.” Ask your team to share lessons from failures and grow your entire team from those experiences.
3) Practice patience. These great people you have hired are high achievers and may become impatient when things aren’t perfect. Share your stories and help them understand this is part of the process.
Leadership author and speaker John Maxwell defines leadership as the ability to influence. Your ability to grow others is crucial to long-term success in leadership. Help others learn how to blaze their own trails and your organization will walk a much easier path to success.

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