In a Personnel Conference from The Mission Exchange a few years ago, Steve Moore listed in a breakout session a number of the factors he looks for in emerging leaders. Listed on a scale from the more obscured and foundational to the more obvious and experienced:
The reactive hypothetic. Marked by statements such as, “If I were in charge, I wouldn’t do it like that.”
How do you recognize leadership gifts in someone? You may have read John Maxwell’s scale of leadership. I’m not sure how much I agree with the concept or his analysis of the scale, but it’s a useful device to make an observation from my own experience. If you’re a 7 on the leadership scale and you have an 8 working under you, they will likely be a thorn in your side.
How exactly will that manifest itself? They might be the one who critiques everything you do. They might take initiative on projects you didn’t want them working on. They might be the one who takes the inch and turns it into a mile. They might go around the system instead of working within the boundaries. There are leadership traits on display in every one of those abuses of the supervisory relationship.
There are three choices for the manager, then.
You can either call it leadership and give them opportunities to grow their abilities in a healthy setting.
You can liberate them so they can move on to a job where they can better utilize their “gifts.”
Or you can suppress their initiative.
The third leads to broken trust, continued pain and crushed spirits. I’ve been in that position, and I suggest that there are really only two choices for a person like this.
Let me suggest one possible conclusion: look at them as a chance to work yourself out of a job. Grit your teeth and pour into this emerging leader for a year or two, refine their rough edges and then liberate them by stepping aside. After all, if you’re truly a 7 on the scale, the best thing you can do is recognize the time to step aside and let them shine. If you do it right, you can count their future success as your success.