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How John Wayne Stunted Leadership Development

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in Remarkable Leadership with Kevin Eikenberry

John Wayne was one of the biggest film stars ever. And his legacy has been hindering leaders for a long time.John Wayne

Unwittingly, in many of his movies, John Wayne “proves” that you can succeed alone. All you need is the biggest will, the most stamina and the fastest gun. John Wayne taught (well, perhaps reinforced) the myth of the single hero.

But the Duke’s world was a world of scripts and make-believe. You lead in the real world. The fact is that the only way for you to succeed as a leader is to bust that myth. You can’t do it alone, not if you want to succeed at the highest levels. You must engage your team. You must let them in. You must challenge them. You must allow them to try (and fail).

You can’t do it all yourself; you don’t have enough time in your day. You can’t do it all yourself; you don’t have every strength and all the experience required. You can’t do it all yourself; you aren’t John Wayne. In other words, you can’t achieve your maximum potential until you get help and assistance from others. Put another way, the only way to have great success as a leader is to delegate.

I’ve hinted at the first thing required — you must change your perspective and beliefs. The image of the self-made man or woman, solely leading his or her team and organization to victory is ridiculous. While you hold the “self-made” belief, you likely also believe that “two heads are better than one” and “the team can accomplish more than the individual.” The second two beliefs, while requiring us to work with and get along with others, are more likely to lead to success.

Here are two other mindsets that will help you with delegation …

Share responsibility. To delegate you must share the responsibility for the outcome. Think about it this way. When do you get the most satisfaction from your work: when you are given and feel ownership for a task, project or outcome, or when you are watched and constantly being questioned? 

Others feel the same way you do, so give them that opportunity. Give people a picture of success, help them see the big picture and get out of their way.

Allow for mistakes. When people are learning, they will stumble and stub their toe. It happened to you and it will happen to them. If you want people’s best efforts, you have to allow space for errors and mistakes. When people understand the big picture and believe in where the group is going, the mistakes will be honest ones and can (and will) be corrected. Your job is to provide the safety net and help make sure they learn from (and consequently don’t repeat) the mistakes. If you want more productivity and engagement, this is what you must do.

Next week I will take this a step further and talk about what your real role is, rather than doing all the work you should be delegating. But for now, enjoy your favorite John Wayne movie, but don’t take the lessons to the office the next day.

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