Learning to Let Others Lead

By Kathryn Magura

My campus has seen a lot of changes over the last year, and my department in particular has seen a lot of seasoned staff leave. The result has been some restructuring of positions (all good, from my perspective), and new leadership at all levels. As someone who has been a part of the department for over a decade, it’s been refreshing to see new staff come in with new ideas on how to serve our students.

As my role within the department evolves, I have had the opportunity to take on supervision of more professional staff. When you move from supervising students to professionals, the change in needs and structure is vastly different. I think both groups can take a lot of your time, but the needs are different from that time. Please don’t take that to be whining – I love spending time with all my staff. :)

A unique perspective I’ve had recently is bringing in new professional staff to take over roles I used to perform. You would think there would be a lot of ego involved in ensuring the tasks happen exactly the way I want them to (you know, the way I used to do it. Also known as the right way.), but I have been pleasantly surprised with myself that this simply hasn’t been the case. I’ve been reflecting about why this is, and it occurred to me that one of the biggest tenants of leadership is learning to let others lead.

It’s not about making sure the tasks get done the way I would do them, it’s about ensuring the staff have the training and skills to get the work done the way they want to. I make myself available to answer questions, and let my staff know that if they want my opinion I will share it, but I let them determine when they need my help, versus assuming they need my knowledge to thrive. Allowing them the autonomy to do it their own way allows them to take ownership of the work and experience for students and staff they serve.

As we continue to bring in new staff, I hope to continue refining my skills in learning to let others lead, so they feel true ownership for the work they are doing. I’m not saying I’ve perfected this skill by any means, but I am saying I appreciate the benefits of humility in leading others.

So what do you think? What does it mean to you to let others lead?

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  • lmendersby

    Great post, Kathryn. One reframe that has helped me in supervising professional staff is thinking beyond ‘letting’ someone lead to ‘giving them the space and opportunity’ to lead. When I explain my role as a manager, I often talk about clearing a path for others to do their best work. In that way, I’m not letting them lead, assuming that I have some power to bestow leadership or leadership skills, but rather opening a door and offering them the opportunity to walk through it. I always come back to Chester Barnard’s Fiction of Superior Authority – we as leaders only have power because it’s been given to us by those who follow. It’s these others, then, that let us lead.

    • Kathryn Magura

      I really appreciate the reframe, Lisa! I agree that the best leaders I have seen are ones who do so by gaining buy-in from those they are leading.

  • Ryan G. Bye

    Great topic & post! Thank you. I have been thinking about this a lot recently. I am reading Greater Than Yourself for a leadership course I am teaching this semester. Ultimately, my answer would be it means making others great. Raising up others above you by giving them all your knowledge to be a great leader & then letting them lead. So ultimately – I agree with everything you said! However, I do not think it is an easy task, but it is something that must be done. I would encourage you to read Greater Than Yourself by Steve Farber!

    • Kathryn Magura

      Thanks for the tip! I’m on my way to amazon now. :)