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Growing Leaders, Part 2 (Yes, But…)


All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible. ~T.E. Lawrence – Seven Pillars of Wisdom

I recently blogged about what I perceive as a leadership crisis, in my company and my belief that I need to do something to begin filling the void. Well, a vision without a plan is just a dream. I tend to be a dreamer so, typically, I am ok with the vapor that is my dreams dissipating. This time, however, dreaming is not enough. I have a strong belief in this dream which is the impetus I needed to start building a plan. Before putting pen to paper, or bits and bites to computer, I had enthusiastic confirmation there was a need for this type of training in a text message from a blog reader requesting to be part of the training. It was satisfying to know I was on the right path.

I like to build my ideas using PowerPoint, first creating a possible outline then a slide for each item in the outline. The tool allows me to easily manipulate the organization and order of the ideas I am trying to flesh out. I carefully crafted some slides answering the basic questions of What, Why, When, Where and Who to help my solidify the idea while simultaneously creating a sales slide for presenting to my manager. I also added my expectations of the attendees and a lesson plan with the first six lessons. In my mind, I was already patting my back because this was ‘stroke of genius’ material. I showed it to another person, another potential recipient of my genius, and was given gushing praise and, another person that wanted to be a part of the training program. So, I set up a meeting with my boss, included the document for his preview, a mere formality for such a brilliant idea. My child was ready to be born.

The next day, my boss walked into my office. I brought up the first slide and asked if he had had the chance to look it over. He said yes he had time for a brief glance then uttered the words, “I think your idea is brilliant but...”. Yes but? Was it possible he uttered those buzz killing words?

I tumbled into Charlie Brown cartoon mode. In the cartoon which is viewed from kids perspective, whenever the parent’s talked all the TV audience heard was “Wa wa wa waaa”. I saw my boss’ lips moving but all I heard was Wa wa wa wa waaa wa. Wa wa waaa. I felt my brain child slipping away, my baby was not going to be birthed. Waaa wa waaa. I did my best to keep my body language from betraying my disappointment but that’s a difficult task when you feel your creation being dismissed, deemed unworthy. I struggled to bring my attention back, forced myself to hear the words my boss was speaking.

Waa, waa…Brilliant…wa waaaa, he said. Brilliant? Is that what I heard? My ears turned toward him like the ears of a puppy when tuning them to hear a faint sound more clearly.

“I think your idea is brilliant but”, is how he started then went on to say that the scope is too narrow, that the vision needs to be bigger, grander. We need to develop not just junior leaders but also leaders capable of becoming the next director, senior director, vice president. It turns out, the lack of leadership bench strength is something senior management had discussed a couple of months earlier and they had come to the same conclusion I had that a systematic program to develop leaders was needed but, to date, nothing was started. It was a forgotten discussion. A discussion forgotten by senior management, by my boss until my proposal triggered his memory. The difference in our two visions was that mine was catering to new leaders, junior leaders and theirs was focused on established leaders and senior leadership roles.

I feel I have the skills necessary to nurture the junior but lack the experience required to grow senior leaders, those stationed two levels above my current position. Since their vision was out of the realm of what I feel qualified to teach, I would have to let go of my plan. I could take heart in the fact that I did have a similar vision to theirs. I could also take heart in the fact that, by preparing and presenting my material, the need for bench strength would again come to the forefront of senior management plans and the need I saw would be addressed.

“Okay”, I said to my boss, “I will just scrap my plans and let senior management take the reins.” “No”, he said. No? He went on to tell me that he was going to setup a meeting with the senior director next week to discuss leadership development and he wanted me to be part of the meeting, that he wanted me to be part of the program. He was telling me he believes in my ability to help grow leaders not just at the junior level but also at the senior ranks. He was telling me he sees in me a potential that I did not notice in myself.

What started out for me as euphoria before sinking into melancholy has resurfaced as enthusiastic anticipation. My baby just needs some additional gestation before being birthed. The mentoring my boss had just gifted to me reminded me of the words attributed to Daniel Hudson Burnham. “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.”

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