For over two decades I’ve been a contributor to the leadership complexification business. It started way back in graduate school when I wrote my thesis on—take a deep breath—the efficacy of the initiation of psychological structure through the use of directive leadership styles as a negative correlate of role ambiguity and positive correlate of employee satisfaction in workplaces that have undergone a recent reduction in force. Whew!
As a senior ranking officer in the Legion of Leadership Complexifiers (LLC), I can confidently say that leadership is the most overanalyzed, thoroughly dissected, and utterly confused topic in business. The challenge is, we leadership experts have made the topic of leadership far more complex than it needs to be, which causes people to opt out of the chance to lead. The checklist that we’ve constructed gets longer, more idealized, and more complicated with every passing year. We expect leaders 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 walk on water!
It took my five-year old son, Ian, to bring me back to what matters most about leadership. Ian is a pre-schooler 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. 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!”
With seven simple words, Ian cut through two decades of studying and researching about leadership. Leaders are simply creators of opportunity for others: they open doors for people.
Think for a moment about a leader whom you greatly admire. Pick someone who has actually led you. What do you admire about him or her? Did he open a door to 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 different and more honest way? Did he build your confidence by asking for your perspective, input, and ideas? What doors did he open for you?
My bet is that the leaders you most admire are the ones who left you better off than they found you by creating opportunities that helped you grow. How?
- By being open to you, valuing your input and perspective.
- By being open with you, telling you the truth even if the truth is difficult to hear.
- By helping you be receptive to new possibilities and experiences, and new ways of perceiving and thinking.
Ian 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 the clutter that we “experts” put around the concept of leadership, and opening doors for others is what matters most.
Bill Treasurer is the Chief Encouragement Officer of Giant Leap Consulting and author of Leaders Open Doors, which focuses on how leaders create growth through opportunity. 100% of the book’s royalties are being donated to programs that support children with special needs. Bill is also the author of Courage Goes to Work, Right Risk, and Courageous Leadership, and has led courage-building workshops across the world for NASA, Accenture, CNN, PNC Bank, SPANX, Hugo Boss, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs, and many others. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @btreasurer.