I think she almost laughed at me. Kind of blurted an involuntary guffaw. But then my Teaching Assistant followed up her involuntary non-verbal display with sincere verbal reassurance.
We were recapping the last 3 classes, all of which were led by students themselves. We were in strong agreement that the classes had gone well (as I had written in last week’s RFL blog). I shared with her, “A voice in my head worries that they’re going to wonder, ‘shouldn’t he be teaching?'” And that’s what precipitated what I took as the guffaw. She explained (I’m paraphrasing), “Dan, No offense, but I think they listen better to each other and to multiple voices, than to you.”
She wasn’t laughing at me, but I am! Isn’t this every parent’s worry, “How will my kids make the right choices if I don’t help them?” This is a voice in every supervisor’s head, “They’re paying me to know, to lead, to instruct, to direct. Won’t they (my workers — and what if my MANAGER finds out?!) lose respect for me and not pay attention to me if I let them lead?” In other words, we feel that we need to justify our existence (okay, maybe YOU don’t) by actively, intelligently, demonstrably directing activities.
But leadership is fundamentally about creating your own obsolescence. If it’s about anything, it’s about empowering others to lead. It’s walking, then jogging, then running down the street, and then letting go of the back of your kid’s bicycle seat and letting them pedal away . . . sometimes to fall. Yep. But it’s about them pedaling.
I remember a great session I had with the Google management team in Ann Arbor where we were cleaning the slate of the need to be the omniscient-supervisor-in-charge. Instead, I was asking them: “What if you pushed the envelope on empowerment?” I asked: “If you were really serious about letting these (amazing!) Googlers loose, what would you do?” I remember that meeting ten years ago as if it were yesterday for two things. One, their genuine enthusiasm to take the challenge, the risk, the step to free people to lead. And, then I remember one of them fascinated with the idea of letting his staff people take turns doing his job fully, for a full day. I’ve always wondered if he did.
Tuesday I will “teach” my grad students again. I will be the authority. But I am mindful that there’s no fully going back. I don’t want to. I want THEM
to lead with THEIR best selves.