It was the day before my editor started her vacation, and my colleagues and I were getting nothing done. We each had to map everything we planned to do the following week and go through it with her — in excruciating detail. She then reviewed every possible scenario that might come up in her absence, how we should handle it, and when to contact her.
It was painful.
“Does she think we can’t handle anything on our own?” the managing editor asked me.
“I don’t think so,” I replied.
The more I thought about it, however, the more I saw that it wasn’t that she thought we were incapable; it was that she didn’t want to us to be able to thrive on our own. I think it made her feel needed and perhaps gave her a sense of job security.
Well, not only is this type of thinking misguided, but it’s in direct contrast to how a good leader operates. In an interview published this week, Matthew Chambers, CIO of Baylor Scott & White, talked about the concept of leading in absence. Not surprisingly, he’s a strong proponent of surrounding yourself with bright, capable people, and empowering them to make decisions.
“A good leader doesn’t just have to be in all places at all times. A good leader, in my mind is one where, heaven forbid, if I get run over by a bus today, the trains still get to work on time. The trains keep running because you’ve built an extension plan behind you, supporting you, where the next person in line just steps in and keeps going,” he said.
It’s clear that Chambers has the utmost confidence in his team, and trusts that they will manage just fine without him. And not only that, but it’s clear he’s willing to let his staff shine, which is another quality of a great leader that, in my mind, sometimes gets overlooked. It’s easy to relish the spotlight, but to point it toward those who put in the long hours and don’t always get recognition takes great strength of character.
To prove that I truly believe in this concept, I’ll use the example of Joe Torre. Currently the executive VP of baseball operations for Major League Baseball, Torre is perhaps best known for managing the New York Yankees for 12 years, during which the team won four World Series titles. As a diehard Red Sox fan, it pains me to cite the man who was responsible for so much Yankee success. But Torre never made it about himself. Ever. He did every interview like a pro, never giving the media much fodder, and always pointed the spotlight on his players.
He knew he wasn’t the show.
On the contrary, you have Bobby Valentine, whose one-year stint as manager of the Red Sox was an unmitigated disaster. Valentine soaked up every bit of media attention and basked in it, even going so far as to book a weekly radio spot with a New York station (which, as you can imagine, wasn’t well-received in Boston). When the team underperformed and things went sour, he was the first one to start tossing around blame — and he wasn’t pointing the finger at himself.
When John Farrell took over the team and lead them to a World Series championship, I remember my husband, an avid baseball fan, asking, “Who is their coach again?” He didn’t remember, because Farrell was focused on being the leader, not the star. That was the role he embraced, and he excelled at it. (Although I’m sure he did a little basking as Valentine watched the World Series parade from the sidelines.)
And the beauty is that by being that type of leader, you can become a star — to those who work for you.