Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

July 8, 2013

Leadership is about opening doors for others


Bill Treasurer

Leadership is the most overanalyzed, thoroughly dissected, and utterly confused topic in business. Many leadership experts, myself included, make the topic of leadership far too complex, causing people to opt out of the chance to lead.
The checklist that we’ve constructed for what it takes to be a leader gets longer, more idealized, and more complicated, causing the expectations people hold of leaders to keep shifting. We expect leaders to be bold and calculated, passionate and reasonable, rational and emotional, confident and humble, driven and patient, strategic and tactical, competitive and cooperative, principled and flexible. It’s not humanly possible to be all of those things.
After two decades of contributing to the complexification of leadership, I recently learned a simple but essential lesson about leadership from an unlikely person: my 5-year old son Ian. Ian is a pre-schooler at The Asheville Montessori School in Asheville, N.C., where we live. One sunny afternoon Ian came bounding up the stairs proclaiming, “Guess what, Daddy? I got to be the Class Leader today!”
“Really? Class Leader? That’s a big deal, little buddy. What did you get to do as the class leader?”
Ian’s answer was simple, funny, and in its own way, profound.
“I got to open doors for people!”
In a matter of 15 seconds, with seven simple words, Ian clarified what’s most important about leadership.
Maybe more people would opt in to the chance to lead if us leadership experts spent more time highlighting the basic idea that leaders are simply creators of opportunity for others: they open doors. Think for a moment about a leader whom you greatly admire. Pick someone who has led you rather than someone on the world stage. What do you admire about her? Did she open a door to an opportunity where you could grow your skills or improve yourself, such as asking you to lead a high-profile project? Did she help illuminate a blind spot by giving you candid feedback that caused you to see yourself in a different and more honest way? Did she build your confidence by asking for your perspective, input, and ideas? Or did she openly advocate for your promotion, showing you how much he valued you? What doors did she open for you?
My bet is that the leaders you most admire are the ones who left you better off than they found you by creating opportunities that helped you grow. How?
  By being open to you, valuing your input and perspective.
  By being open with you, telling you the truth even if the truth is difficult to hear.
  By helping you be receptive to new possibilities and experiences, and new ways of perceiving and thinking.
My greatest hope is that Leaders Open Doors will cause more leaders to open more doors for the people they lead. I also hope that the book itself opens doors for others. That’s why I’ve decided to donate 100 percent of the royalties I receive from sales of Leaders Open Doors to programs that support children with special needs. It’s the best way of ensuring that the book lives its own message.
Plus, as a father of a 9-year-old deaf girl who has cerebral palsy, I am keenly aware how important it is to open doors of opportunity for these beautiful souls.  
Bill Treasurer is the Chief Encouragement Officer of Giant Leap Consulting (www.giantleapconsulting.com). His latest book is “Leaders Open Doors,” which focuses on how leaders create growth through opportunity. To learn more, contact info@giantleapconsulting.com.

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