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How to Successfully Build Leaders without Destroying your Lawn, Family, or Business

Josh Clark, CEO Richer Life

September 22, 2016

I recently fired my lawn guy. Firing him had nothing to do with the quality of the work he was doing. His termination was unrelated to the price he charged or the value I received. Truth be told, severing my four-year relationship with my lawn maintenance engineer had nothing to do with him.

I fired my lawn guy because my boy turned ten. I fired my lawn guy because mowing the lawn is a great leadership development tool. I fired my lawn guy because

“A boy becomes a man when a man is needed.” – John Steinbeck

Now understand, I don’t think for a minute that my ten-year-old son can do a better job than the professional who has been trimming my turf for the last four years. Nor do I think I’ll be saving any money in this transition. (I did the math, and this change is costing me over twenty times what it cost to outsource.) But I’m happy I made the change and will continue to make changes like this one in both my home and work life. Why? It’s quite simple. I’ve learned that great leaders develop other leaders by giving responsibility away just a little too soon. I want my son to grow up to be a leader. So I’m giving him big responsibility just a little before he’s ready.

Now before all the helicopter parents start freaking out about a ten-year-old mowing the lawn, let me assure you I’m aware of the dangers. I know them better than most. I distinctly remember that hot summer afternoon during my fourth-grade year when my buddy was rushed to the hospital after cutting his heel off in a lawn mowing accident. He was fine, but not until after multiple skin grafts and extended hospital stays. (Boy did he have some awesome scars!) Yes, I’m aware of the dangers associated with a ten-year-old mowing the lawn. But, I’ve done the math and for my son and me, the risk is worth the reward.

Let me summarize the top ten benefits my son has received since we made the switch:

1. He’s making an extra $15 a week.Version 2

2. He experiences a sense of pride every time we pull in the driveway.  He experiences pride because I tell him I’m proud of him every time we pull up to the house together.

3. He’s learning entrepreneurship. Just last week he asked me how long until he could mow the neighbors’ yards and pay his younger brothers to do the work. (I’m so proud!)

4. He’s learning to work hard. His new job has required an investment of blood, sweat and tears. He’s learning first hand what it takes to do a good job.

5. He’s learning to work smart. His first Saturday he worked in the heat of the day. Week two, he got started early and was done before 10 AM.

6. He’s learning to influence his authority. After two weeks of sweeping the sidewalks by hand, he convinced me to upgrade to a blower. You should have heard him lobby. (God, please don’t let him go into politics.)

7. He’s growing in his toughness. The first week he hit his mouth on the handle and bloodied his lip. He took a break. Got some water and got back to work. He did this because I comforted him, then I made him.

8. He’s growing stronger. It took him three weeks before he could start the mower by himself. Now, five weeks in, he starts it on the first pull every time.

9. His confidence is growing. My son is doing a grown man’s work. And he’s doing it with excellence. Doing a man’s work with a man’s tools is helping him to believe in himself, and his future as a man.

10. He is getting an extra hour each week with his dad. Most guys tend to connect side by side. That is, we connect best when we’re doing something together. Doing work together with my son provides an opportunity for deeper connection.

img_3148You can see. While giving responsibility away early is risky. The benefits can be overwhelmingly positive. I would go so far as to say that giving away responsibility early is key to maximizing the leadership potential in those you influence. Whether I’m dealing with my ten-year-old son, a recent college grad, or the most seasoned executive, I’ve found that when I trust those I lead with big responsibility they respond by becoming better leaders themselves.

I’ve been receiving and giving leadership away for over two decades. And let me say, it’s not enough to just give responsibility away to those you lead. You must commit to investing in their leadership journey. When it comes to sharing responsibility, here are

“Four Secrets Great Leaders use when Delegating Responsibility.”

1. Great Leaders Delegate; They Don’t Abdicate: Leaders must be careful not to use delegation as an excuse for abdicating their personal responsibility. It would be irresponsible of me to give my son the responsibility to care for our lawn without also giving him the tools, training, and oversight required to ensure his success. Had I put him in the yard with power tools and no support. All you helicopter parents would have been right to call social services. Whether at home or in the office, leaders often set up subordinates to fail under the guise of delegating responsibility. If you are the leader, you are responsible for your team’s success. Don’t use delegation as an excuse for abdication – it doesn’t work, and your team will resent you for it.

2. Great Leaders Give Subordinates the Freedom to Accomplish Shared Priorities in their Personality: Some leaders have a hard time delegating responsibility to someone who will accomplish the mission in a different way. The best leaders create a ROWE (Results Oriented Work Environment). They work hard to identify shared priorities clearly. And once everyone is on the same page, they empower their team to achieve results in their unique way. My son and I agree on how the finished lawn should look. It’s been fun to see him experiment with different ways to accomplish the same result.

3. Great Leaders Teach that Each Opportunity is a Platform for the Next One:  After I had given my son his first paycheck, he began looking at the yards in the neighborhood differently. It wasn’t long before he was multiplying the number of homes in our community by $15. I watched his eyes sparkle and knew he was hooked. “Dad, when can I start doing the neighbors yard?” He asked. “Son,” I replied, “as soon as you prove to yourself and our neighbors that you can do a great job.” It’s amazing how quickly the newly empowered desire increased responsibility. It’s up to the seasoned leader to remind them that more stewardship comes to those who are faithful with what they already have. Too often, new employees want an increased role before they succeed at the one they were hired to fill. It’s our job as leaders to remind them that their path to success lies in doing their current job with excellence.

4. Great Leaders Invest Energy Early so they can Reap Benefits Often: Giving my son this new responsibility requires roughly twenty times more resources than outsourcing it did. I used to watch the lawn guy from my football chair on Saturday mornings. Now I work alongside the lawn guy. (Thank God for DVR!) Great leaders know that delegating responsibility requires more effort now, but pays off big later. To help my son succeed, I asked him to watch me mow the lawn. Then I showed him how to use the tools of the trade. Then I worked with him as we did the lawn together. This week, he might be ready to do it on his own. Today, the lawn. Tomorrow, the world.

So there you have it. How to successfully empower others without destroying your lawn, family, or business. The leadership skills I’ve developed are a direct result of having great leaders who empowered me with great responsibility. Thinking back on my leadership journey, I was given big responsibility just a little before I was ready, almost every time. So the next time you find yourself outsourcing a big responsibility, or feel stuck fulfilling it yourself. Ask yourself, who on my team isn’t quite ready to take this responsibility. Then, get out of your football chair, tap them on the shoulder, and go make a leader.

Thanks for reading. Keep on Leading.


BTW – Did a leader empower you with big responsibility a little before you were ready? If so, please leave a comment sharing a little about them and how their leadership impacted your life.

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