For all of the advice leadership “experts” peddle, it’s amazing how complicated they make the topic of leadership. The requirements that they tell us we need to meet to be called a true “leader” get longer, more idealized, and more complicated, causing many people to opt out of the chance to lead. Leaders are expected 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 perfect!
The truth is, despite being the most overanalyzed, thoroughly dissected, and utterly confused topic in business, leadership doesn’t have to be so complex. In fact, my five-year old son Ian recently taught me an important lesson about the essential job of a leader.
Ian is a preschooler 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’s most important about leadership: creating opportunities for the people you lead.
Leaders are simply creators of opportunity for others: They open doors. Think, for example, about a leader whom you greatly admire. Pick someone who has actually led you, versus someone on the world stage. What do you admire about him or her? Did he provide you with an opportunity where you could grow your skills, such as asking you to lead a high-profile project? Did she give you candid feedback that caused you to see yourself in a more honest way? Did he value your perspective, input, and ideas? Didn’t the leader you admire create opportunities for you to stretch, grow, and excel?
My five-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 better people. Cut through all of the clutter that the leadership experts build around the concept of leadership, and you’ll realize that opening doors for others is what matters most.