Jack, help me solve a debate. When is the right time to give an up-and-coming leader more responsibility?
Great question and one that good leaders often disagree about. The good news is that there are some non-negotiables that most leaders DO agree on. Some prerequisites to more responsibility include:
- The leader has produced results with the responsibilities you've already given her.
- The leader is hungry for more responsibility.
- The leader has character qualities that you want to replicate in your organization.
- The leader has earned your trust as well as the trust of other leaders.
- The leader gets your vision for the future and is on board.
If any of these qualities above are not in a healthy place, pause and work on those things. But even once these things are in a good place, I see leaders lean one of two ways when it comes to giving a leader more responsibility. Some leaders tend to let out the rope sooner than later, choosing to give growing leaders more responsibility when they are 65% ready to take on the new things. Other leaders opt to wait until the leader has proven themselves to be 90% ready, often to avoid unnecessary mistakes.
My track record is definitely the former. I have a strong bent toward giving a fast-growing leader more responsibility early. I often increase the level of skill needed when the leader is 65% ready. I do this knowing two things for sure: That they are going to make mistakes and that I will need to give them extra time, attention and coaching. I've been criticized by peer level leaders for "over delegating". But here are some things I've learned that make me a strong believer in this style of raising up young leaders:
- It stretches the growing leader more and they grow faster.
- It increases their self-confidence as they do difficult things they weren't sure they could do.
- If I believe in them more than they believe in themselves, it gives them a BIG shot of belief in themselves, and they will rise to the new level to live up to my belief in them.
- Over five years, a leader who has been led this way is a noticeably more seasoned, more confident, stronger leader.
- Waiting until a leader is 90% ready for new things sends them a subtle message that you don't believe they can handle it.
- And finally, ambitious leaders that have strong character and talent will get bored and often seek more responsibility somewhere else if you wait until there is no risk and avoid letting them try new things.
Consider hiring less experienced leaders and delegating sooner to leaders who may not have all of the needed experience; but they have the right ingredients. This style of leadership will add excitement to your leadership team and you may be surprised at the results.