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“Leadership Excellence” is often a contradiction in terms

Several of them dropped the balls again. In the midst of “generally managing everything,” several of our swim school General Managers let their site-specific social media postings fall off the radar in the past several weeks.

On the one hand I understand: we are heading into our busiest time of the year, and most of them are short-staffed. On the other hand, our customers live on their smartphones. If we aren’t posting regularly, we risk being overlooked when these customers are making buying decisions.

Leadership is often glorified as the pinnacle of success, but the truth is, it’s not always a walk in the park. In fact, one of the most challenging aspects of being a leader is effectively delegating responsibilities. When you’re responsible for guiding a team, ensuring that every delegated task aligns with the organization’s goals can be a daunting endeavor. It’s no wonder that leadership excellence oftentimes feels like a contradiction in terms.

Managers hold on to things; Leadership requires that you and I let go

One of the simple distinctions between management and leadership is this: “Managers hold tightly; Leaders hold loosely.” Whether it is projects they are pushing forward, team members they are training or budgets they are responsible for, good managers are on top of things almost daily.

Leaders, on the other hand, need to step back and keep the bigger picture in mind, which means you and I as leaders have to hold loosely the day-to-day managing of essential tasks. This balancing act of leading without micro-managing becomes crucial when responsibilities are delegated, as the potential for failure increases with each person involved and each layer of delegation.

The leaders who do this well have learned what I call, “Having a critical eye without a critical spirit.” They see everything – including the balls that get dropped underneath them – but they don’t focus on everything, knowing that the risk of delegation allows for the payoff of broader influence: when you let go of the day-to-day things as a leader, you can grow your organizational vision to be bigger, broader and further-reaching.

Indeed, I need to remind myself regularly that we could never have grown to a multi-unit, multi-territory business if I was still managing everything.

Leaders are always risking

In big ways and small, anytime you and I delegate as leaders, we allow risk to enter the equation. Right now, our swim school enterprise is not as visible on our customers’ smartphones as it should be. What sales are we missing? What children and families are we not able to serve? I’ll never know.

Here’s what I do know: last year we did more than 200,000 swim lessons at our five swim schools. Was every single lesson done with absolute excellence? Was every single customer commitment kept by every one of our team members? Was every single thing done well by every single one of our general managers and their team members? Undoubtedly no. But – we served more families than would ever be possible if I wasn’t letting go.

Fellow leader – where do you need to risk excellence to allow your influence and impact to grow?