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Your Job As a Leader

Legacy Leadership: Your Job As a Leader

9 Ways to Create an Environment of Growth

By Professor of Management J. Lee Whittington, Ph.D.

J. Lee WhittingtonDate published: March 4, 2019 

I played left tackle on my high school football team. If you know anything about that position you know that we labor in obscurity and that no one knows who we are except our parents and our girlfriends. Unless of course we miss a key block and the quarterback gets sacked. (Yes, I have a story about that!)

There’s a lot to learn about leading from being an offensive lineman. In that role, our job is to remove the obstacles so that others can run for touchdowns, or protect the quarterback so he can throw the passes. Regardless of the play we’re running, our job is to create a situation where others can perform and the team can win the game.

When I first became a manager, my dad told me that my job was to create an environment where people could perform. When I began teaching, my dad told me that my job was to create an environment where people could learn.

From playing on the offensive line to listening to my father’s advice, the lesson was consistent, and the parallel advice was striking: As a leader and as a teacher, the fundamental task is to create an environment where people can perform, learn, grow, flourish and become all that God designed them to be.

I learned these lessons before I was aware of a label for this approach to leadership. Now I know that this is the essence of servant leadership. This is reflected in Robert Greenleaf’s “Test” for servant leaders:

Do those I lead grow as people? As a result of my leadership are they wiser, freer and more autonomous? How likely are they to become servant leaders themselves?

Based on this criteria, it is clear that the real measure of a leader’s effectiveness is changed lives.

The challenge for any leader then becomes: How do we create an environment where those we are leading can learn, perform, flourish and thrive?

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or new to leading a team, here are some ideas to help foster an environment where others can flourish:

  1. Become a student of those you’re leading. Get to know the people you’re leading and teaching so that you can customize your leadership style to their needs. One style does not fit all.
  2. Identify their strengths, their giftedness and their passion.
  3. Match their strengths, gifts and passions with a job that will tap into those characteristics.
  4. Encourage and support them.
  5. Look for opportunities to stretch them.
  6. Use delegation as a developmental tool.
  7. Create the right environment by providing resources and opportunities.
  8. Create the right environment by removing organizational obstacles that get in the way of them performing at their best.
  9. Buffer them from the distractions of organizational politics and nonessential tasks.

As a leader, as a teacher, as a parent — as a lineman laboring in the obscurity of the trenches — your primary task is to create an environment where people can perform, learn and grow. Like an offensive lineman, the work you’re doing may not be seen immediately, but the results are always rewarding. The real measure of our work is the changed lives of those we lead.