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Leadership guru John Maxwell shared, “I read a book once about Adolf Hitler, and I remember this story in particular: When the evil despot wanted to hire a chauffeur, he interviewed 30 people for the job, according to author Robert Waite. He selected the smallest of the bunch—a man so short he required special blocks to be able to see over the steering wheel. Hitler needed to keep everyone around him small—literally and figuratively—in order to make himself look big. Leadership to him was one big ego trip.”Great leaders move beyond that. They outgrow themselves and find joy in growing others. Stretching themselves and then passing it on to others is the high in life and leadership for them. It’s a joy to “up the ante”—to make yourself and others stretch. Begin asking more of yourself and then others. Expect more.True leaders know that the key to success is empowering people around us. We want to help people find their voices, develop their talents, discover their purpose, shake up lives—their own and those around them. When we are new on the job, we tend to be very self-reliant. We do just about everything ourselves, and so if we aren’t doing the job with our coworkers, progress slows to a crawl. When we stretch ourselves to grow our team members, and they stretch too, our efforts together will succeed in ways no one could achieve alone. It also moves a leader from a good leader to a great leader.Maxwell suggests six strategies for extraordinary leadership, all of which focus on developing people’s potential.

  • Ask questions . . . often. A great discussion is the way to a great decision. Meaningful, purposeful dialogue not only develops skills and knowledge, but also discernment and decision-making. As the leader, ask questions to get the discussion going.

  • Listen closely. People feel valued when they feel heard. When people feel heard, their confidence grows, and they produce. Even the most reserved people come forward with ideas. The day your ideas are no longer the best ideas is the day you know you’ve succeeded in tapping your team’s talents.

  • Identify patterns. As you ask your team questions, pay attention to the way they analyze information and make decisions. Look for the motivation behind their actions so you can understand how to lead them. Understanding the way other people’s minds work can help you put the right person in the right seat.

  • Challenge people’s thinking. The best teachers you ever had were probably the toughest. They questioned you, guided you to new insights, and forced you to consider other perspectives. They pushed you further than you knew you could go. Become that teacher. When you challenge people, you set the stage for them to breakthrough to new moments.

  • Encourage a focus on solutions. Encourage many possibilities. Turn people into problem solvers; don’t just allow them to be problem bringers.

  • Model the importance of reflection. Take time to think. We need quiet time to figure things out. Show your team how to do that by doing it yourself.

One of the first tasks for great leaders, hopefully growing from that reflection time, is to overcome insecurities and get rid of the “I can just go ahead and do this myself faster and easier” mentality. When you stretch yourself to include others and you stretch them, you will exponentially multiply effectiveness.Stretching is the way to growth, going a little further than you knew you could. It is not passive. It takes intentionality. Positive leaders give a push and a shove from time to time. Team members who are not stretched may never grow. Remember to keep your balance though. Some members of your team can handle more pressure than others. Get a handle on their personalities and abilities before you begin.Then get busy stretching.

  • Stretching requires consistent constructive criticism. Make constructive criticism a regular element of your leadership. Take an interest in your team members’ work. Offer praise for the things that are going well, but also help them find the gaps or cracks that need to be filled. Then offer constructive ways to improve. If you don’t offer constructive criticism consistently, it will feel like evaluation and discipline, and will discourage instead of help.

  • Stretching requires opportunities to fail. Success always requires learning how to fail well. That can only come by trial and error. Give your team members chances to fail. You might give them a task that seems impossible and see how they handle it. Or you could assign them a task outside their comfort zone. Don’t let things become easy. The point is, no one really knows their limits until they push past them into failure. And often, an initial failure leads to improvement, growth, and eventual success.

  • Stretching may require getting moved to a new area. The benefits of occasionally trying a new area are twofold. Stepping into a new role may help team members discover abilities they didn’t know they had. Also, it creates unity when team members see things from another’s perspective. The whole team can grow by being stretched this way.

  • Stretching requires learning to do it for yourself. Teach yourself and then your team members how to stretch regularly. One good way to do this is by journaling. Regularly recording your successes and failures will reveal patterns of growth and stagnation, as well as ways to get out of ruts and gain momentum. Also, challenge yourself and team members to set strong personal goals. Rather than always moving into new places and new responsibilities, come up with ways to push past personal boundaries. Almost always, we are willing to push harder and further when we are the ones doing the stretching ourselves

These are just a few ways to stretch your team. No matter what you do, make sure you don’t allow complacency to creep in and set the tone. Teams that stretch will grow. People that stretch will grow. Leaders who stretch themselves and others always have a place.

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