Growing up in Singapore and having worked in many Asian countries, I have always looked up to the leader of my organization. I had a preconceived belief of how a “Perfect” leader should be like: Smart, quick-witted, charming and humorous. Thus as I took on various leadership and Managing Director roles in Vietnam later on during my career, I quickly try to assume these characteristics and don on my superman suit.
One day in a board meeting, one of my directors, an American in his late fifties, asked me a question which I had no idea. I was dumbfounded. I replied I don’t know the answer but will look into it. Later on this director came to me and chided: “Warren, you are the leader of the organization. You can’t just say you don’t know. As our leader, you need to be the smartest man in the room”. Really? I thought I just wasn’t good enough. This episode pushed me to try harder, to be more, and do more. I started the race to perfection.
Fast forward a few years later. I received an email from a department manager with a list of her problems regarding what her department faces. The “hero” inside me kicks in immediately and I was about to offer her all my smart solutions that would solve all her problems. Then I hit the pause button. And that changed the rest of my life, as the saying goes.
I questioned myself if this is the best way to serve my staff, and myself. I was feeling the stress, burden and tiredness of always having to be the solution provider, the decision maker, and the super hero to save the day. My staff are also getting dependent on me, to solve all their problems. I take the blame if things go wrong; I take the credit if things go right. Its all about me, me and me. Me the superhero.
Inevitably, I knew I created this culture where growth of the organization is now impeded. And I know: I am the bottleneck. Taking a deep breath and summoning my courage, I replied my manager with a one sentence email: “ Dear Vy, if you were me, what would you do?” Her email reply came in 2 hours later. It was an equally long but totally impressive list of solutions to all her problems. Some of those solutions are so brilliant that I myself would have never thought of. I smiled, and replied her in another one sentence email: “Dear Vy, please proceed.”
This started my movement for Leaders Create Leaders. It has always felt good to be a superhero. It boosted my ego. But it’s too selfish, and tiring. In return, our staff feels disengaged, lacks ownership and totally unfulfilled. Great leaders cannot remain as superheroes. They must create more superheros. By investing their time, energy and resources to engage, empower and coach their staff, leaders tap into the social capital of the team and bring out the best possible ideas, solutions, and direction forward for the company.
And as Leaders bring out the best from their team, they bring out the best in themselves.