six-things-thoughtful-leaders-doMany people consider themselves leaders, many people are in positions to lead, and many people are neither yet aspire to both. I have been spending some time of late thinking more and more about those who fall into the last camp and the role those of us leading them play in their development. The most effective leaders are Fully Invested Leaders. Invested in the mission, invested in the people, and invested in the future. I like to believe I am an effective leader, but that is an assessment for others to make. That said, I don’t need anyone else to assess my level of investment as a leader. I confidently assess myself as a Fully Invested Leader and at times I am overly invested. When I say overly invested I mean that I am unable to turn things off and let go of my responsibilities even when I am not at work. It’s not that I don’t trust others on the team, as I am but a part of an amazing team. And it’s not that my life outside of work is lacking, as my family and friends bring me great joy. It’s just that I find my work extremely meaningful, the people with whom I work extremely important, and my profession extremely fulfilling. Being a Fully Invested Leader is a requirement if we are to successfully accomplish the mission, develop our teammates, grow ourselves, and shape the future. And after all, isn’t that the role of a true leader?

The challenge of being a Fully Invested Leader is in falling short, because those who fall short seem to fall short in the same way. An (not quite fully) invested leader can ensure mission accomplishment without letting our hands off the wheel. By not investing in the entire leadership portfolio of responsibilities and instead keeping our hands on the wheel, we fail to develop our teammates, grow ourself, and shape the future. And that’s what distinguishes an invested leader from one who is fully invested. Over the last month I have enjoyed the benefit of doing Commanding Officer’s Calls with various peer groups across our team. In doing so, I have gained many important insights. One of the most significant is the unintended consequences that at times accompany a pure doer’s growth into a leader.  You see, the more invested we become, the more intrusive some get, and the more initiative we potentially stifle. For example, a young Doer takes charge of her team and proudly makes a decision, inspires execution, and delegates specific action – she’s leading! Now feeling good about herself and gaining confidence as a leader, someone her senior overhears her and quickly counters her decision, undermines her authority, and deflates her in front of the team while reminding those within earshot that he is in fact an invested leader. The net result is a confused and embarrassed Doer who is not likely to demonstrate such initiative in the future, as well as witnesses who won’t make the same mistake that she evidently did in attempting to lead.

This scenario is all too real and I would say that such behavior does communicate a high level of investment and ownership by a leader, but it is not consistent with being a Fully Invested Leader because there is zero consideration for developing our teammates, shaping the future, or ones own personal growth for that matter.

On the flip side, I was recently the Task Force Commander for a military operation. Given the level of interest in this particular operation and the connectivity we enjoy, I had the opportunity to inform, consult with, and get direction from my Operational Commander during our 1-2 times a day update. At the outset, she was very quick to remind me of the tactical and operational level  decision-making authority I had, as well as the few decisions she wanted to retain. I in turn was able to do the same with on-scene commanders forward. She approached this as she does everything else, as a Fully Invested Leader. Though she was interested in and might prefer to be more directly involved, she held back and instead made an investment in me and the team with whom I was leading. She wanted us to own the mission, me to grow as a leader, and the team to develop on our own throughout the experience. We were all in on accomplishing the mission of the day, all the while knowing she had one eye on the future. A future that won’t always include her and a future that will most definitely require us to act swiftly and leverage what we would learn throughout this particular operation. She had every opportunity to direct specific action, to retain decision-making authority at her level, and to be the primary owner of the outcome. She didn’t do any of that. She distributed authority and allowed all of us to own the outcome just as much and often times more than she did.

Leaders must be invested in today, but we must be equally invested in tomorrow and the days that follow long over the horizon. For if we are invested only in today, our reliefs will not be ready come tomorrow.

  • Are you concerned with more than mission accomplishment?
  • Are you a Fully Invested Leader?
  • What might your reliefs assess your leadership portfolio?

Image: Gaping Void Gallery