Written by Sarah Vanek.
That’s a word so frequently tossed around these days, that we really don’t know what it means anymore. Books have been written on it. Speeches have been given on it. Conferences have been centered on it. We are constantly talking about it. But what if we have missed the point?
Society has told us time and time again that leadership is one “A”: Ability. We are either born with it, or we must learn how to develop it. So, we buy all the books we can find, and listen to TED Talks galore to determine if we are a leader, and how we can become one. But in all of this, we’ve focused so much on the ability of leadership that we’ve forgotten the more important “A” of leadership: Availability.
Take a moment and think back to the individual whom you would consider the most influential leader in your life. Maybe it’s a teacher, a coach, a boss, or a pastor. Whoever it was, it probably goes without saying that this person had leadership ability. He or she was good at his or her job and capable of leading people. But if ability was all that was there, this person probably wouldn’t have made your list of influential people. Why? Because a leader’s ability often pales in comparison to his or her availability. Ability looks good on the outside, but availability fosters influence.
You see, it means more when a leader takes time to listen. When he is approachable. When the door is open. When she asks questions. When being supportive becomes at least as important as getting the job done. So, what do we do?
We increase our availability.
As leaders, we are most influential when we make ourselves available to our followers. Think about it. The teacher who stays after school to be there for her students makes more of an impact than the one who obsessively prepares for a lesson at the expense of engaging with her pupils. Why is this? Because students get countless lessons and instructions each day, but not every teacher asks them how things are at home, how their new baby brother is doing, or if they’re enjoying their after school activities. You see, lesson planning and teaching ability are great and essential, but influence will come from simply being there.
Don’t think this applies at the office? Think again. Imagine the boss who is standoffish and simply barks orders. Week after week, all he or she does is assign tasks and ask to see your completed products. How do you respond? Do you feel empowered? Safe? Maybe, but probably not. Chances are, you’d be more likely to do good work and let your passions shine through if he or she found a way to tie them to the vision of the team, and if he or she took time to engage you in conversations that didn’t involve the work that needed to be done.
We enable others’ abilities.
Though each of us likes to show off our ability muscles, growing in leadership often means letting go of doing the tasks ourselves, and embracing the chance to do them through others. This is where your increased availability comes into play. You see, you’re not simply working to make yourself a more available leader to free up your own time; you’re freeing up your time so that you can tap into and develop the abilities of your direct reports. Simply put, this is where you use your abilities to enable theirs.
What does this look like? It could be as simple as sitting down with a direct report to ask what you could do to enable them to do their job better. It could be taking a few extra minutes to nicely show someone a more efficient way to complete a task. Or, it could be acting as a sounding board for an employee to present ideas for their departments. Whatever this looks like, you need to do it. This is how leaders develop leaders.
So, as you move forward in any context of leadership, stop spending all of your resources on trying to be the best at what you do, and start making yourself available to the people you lead. It’s this availability that will create influence, and enable you to tap into and develop the abilities of others. As you do this, you will discover that getting an “A” in leadership starts with simply being available.