Leadership is the most overanalyzed, thoroughly dissected, and utterly confused topic in business. Many leadership experts, myself included, make the topic of leadership far too complex, causing people to opt out of the chance to lead.
The checklist that we’ve constructed for what it takes to be a leader gets longer, more idealized, and more complicated, causing the expectations people hold of leaders to keep shifting. We expect leaders to be bold and calculated, passionate and reasonable, rational and emotional, confident and humble, driven and patient, strategic and tactical, competitive and cooperative, principled and flexible. Of course, it is possible to be all of those things…if you’re God!
After two decades of contributing to the complexification of leadership, I recently learned a simple but essential lesson about leadership from an unlikely person: my 5-year old son, Ian. Ian is a pre-schooler at The Asheville Montessori School in Asheville, North Carolina, where we live. Each Monday his teachers pick one person to be the “Class Leader” for the day. I only became aware of this because one sunny afternoon Ian came bounding up the stairs proclaiming, “Guess what, Daddy? I got to be the Class Leader today!”
“Really? Class Leader? That’s a big deal, little buddy. What did you get to do as the class leader?”
Ian’s answer was simple, funny, and in its own way, profound. “I got to open doors for people!”
In a matter of fifteen seconds, with seven simple words, Ian clarified what is most important about leadership.
Maybe more people would opt in to the chance to lead if us leadership experts spent more time highlighting the basic, fundamental idea that leaders are simply creators of opportunity for others: they open doors.
Think for a moment about a leader whom you greatly admire. Pick someone who has led you, rather than someone on the world stage. What do you admire about him or her? Did he open a door to an opportunity where you could grow your skills or improve yourself, such as asking you to lead a high-profile project? Did she help illuminate a blind spot by giving you candid feedback that caused you to see yourself in a different and more honest way? Did he build your confidence by asking for your perspective, input, and ideas? Or did she openly advocate for your promotion, showing you how much she valued you? What doors did this person open for you?
My bet is that the leaders you admire most are the ones that left you better off than they found you by creating opportunities that helped you grow. How?
- By being open to you, valuing your input and perspective.
- By being open with you, telling you the truth even if the truth is difficult to hear.
- By helping you be receptive to new possibilities and experiences, and new ways of perceiving and thinking.
My 5-year old son seems to have discovered a new, less complex, leadership model: Open Door Leadership. Leaders advance the growth and development of those they lead when they provide opportunities that challenge, stretch, and improve people. Cut through all the clutter that we “experts” use to complicate the concept of leadership - opening doors for others is really what matters most.
Bill Treasurer is the Chief Encouragement Officer of Giant Leap Consulting. His latest book is Leaders Open Doors, and focuses on how leaders create growth through opportunity. Bill is also the author of Courage Goes to Work, an international bestselling book that introduces the concept of courage-building. He is also the author of Courageous Leadership: A Program for Using Courage to Transform the Workplace. Bill has led courage-building workshops for, among others, NASA, Accenture, CNN, PNC Bank, SPANX, Hugo Boss, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs.