Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on Unreasonable.is.
By Teju Ravilochan
Earlier this year, I met with members of the board here at the Unreasonable Institute to get their advice on how I could improve as CEO. Jane Miller, who has served on our board for three years and has been extremely close to our whole team, gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten: “You’re intelligent. But your job is not to be the smartest person in the room. It’s to bring out the best in your team.” She explained to me, as she’d observed in some team meetings, that I sometimes crowd out the voices of others on the team.
This advice resonated deeply because, one, I want to be a leader that brings out the best in my team, and, two, I know her observation is true. This is the No. 1 thing I need to work on as a leader.
So, I have set out to investigate how to bring out the best in other people and how to embrace that directive as my primary mission this year. Here’s what I’ve learned:
The No. 1 difference between the two types of leaders is a simple belief. Diminishers believe “no one else really has much to offer.” They see talent as static and unchanging. Multipliers, on the other hand, view things differently. From the article:
"The critical question for these leaders is not 'Is this person smart?' but rather 'In what ways is this person smart?' The job, as the multiplier sees it, is to bring the right people together in an environment that unleashes their best thinking — and then stay out of the way."
In the past, I saw my job as the “first reporter.” Whenever we encountered a problem, I saw it as my responsibility to solve it first then delegate the execution of my solution to others. That doesn’t work too well because:
Once they lay out their proposed strategy, I can then offer any thoughts and then ask: “Would you be willing to take on solving this challenge? If so, how can I support you?”
My main job then becomes resourcing them with information, capital, decision-making authority, or whatever else they require.
But giving feedback isn’t only about laying out how people can be better. It is more about helping teammates understand how their contributions are driving the organization forward and contributing to the strategy and mission of the organization. As Adam Grant lays out in his book "Give and Take" (perhaps my all-time favorite business book), giving people are motivated primarily by seeing their effort translate into meaningful outcomes in service of a cause they care about.
I’m still learning tremendous amounts about what it takes to bring out the best in other people. But Jane Miller is right: That’s my No. 1 job. And as a leader, I’m guessing it’s probably your No. 1 job too.
Image credit: MeganY via Pixabay
Teju Ravilochan is co-founder and CEO of the Unreasonable Institute. He is driven by the desire to live in a world where every human being can be the master of their own fate, unbound by the chains of poverty, oppression, or injustice.