Leaders should create gaps

On why leaders need to create gaps for others to grow into


As I continue along my career in leadership, it has become clear to me that I must deliberately create gaps for my senior team members to step into, otherwise they will never have the opportunity to grow. If I do not let them lead, then all decisions will come to me, effectively resulting in reverse delegation where every minor decision gets delegated to me as the leader (a worse-case scenario for a servant leader).

So how do you create these gaps? Let’s look at some real examples.

Creating silence

I host a lot of meetings and conference calls. One simple technique I like to use is to create a long awkward moment of silence on a call, to encourage others to speak. They will literally fill that gap, more often than not, with their ideas or perspectives. "Nature abhors a vacuum", and so do people.

""Nature abhors a vacuum", and so do people"

To press this further, you can ask leading questions such as “does anyone else have an opinion? (silence…)”, or “can I hear from anyone else? (silence…)”. Invariable natural leaders within the team will speak up.

Creating process gaps

While I love processes such as scrum, none are perfect: there are always gaps to be filled, tweaks to be made, lessons to be learned etc. Should I take responsibility for addressing all of these? Certainly not, and in fact I often leave them somewhat frayed at the edges to encourage others to take ownership of and fix their own pain points.

Letting them fail

Often you can see someone within your team go down a wrong path, but instead of instructing them, you can choose to let them fail (within reason!) in order to learn the lesson by feeling the failure rather than receiving a lecture from you. The burn of the failure will leave a more lasting impression, and aid their growth not only as a professional but as a human being. From a parenting perspective, this is othen refered to as "risky play": if you protect them too much, then they will never learn how to pick themselves up when they fall.

John Collins

I have been writing about web technology and software development since 2001. I am the developer of the Alpha Framework for PHP, and the five.today personal productivity app. I love open source, technology, and economics. You can follow updates from this blog on Twitter.

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