16 May '08
What altitude should you be flying at?
One of the critical issues for leaders is to determine what altitude they need to fly at and then do their best to stay there. For instance, as the leader of a large organization, my responsibility is to fly at the 40,000 foot level so that I can see the horizons from the best vantage point. My senior team members need to be at 30,000 feet and their area leaders at 20,000 feet and many more will be at ground level.
If I default to flying lower than I should be (by getting into issues that someone else should be dealing with), I am compromising my leadership because I have defaulted to old habits and old responsibilities. My job is not to deal with 20,000 foot issues but with 40,000 foot issues.
Joel is a leader who rose through the ranks of a mission organization to become a senior leader in that organization. He started as a missionary 'on the ground,' then became a team leader, soon an area leader and then a senior leader. In this role he needed to be flying at 30,000 feet but there were things he loved to do at the 5,000 foot level and he had a habit of 'losing altitude' to get into things he used to do and enjoyed doing. Yet he was now responsible for a huge area of the world, scores of missionaries and many national partnerships.
His leader had to coach him to stay at the 30,000 foot level. Could he still do the things he used to do? Not personally. If he wanted those projects to get done he had to find someone to do it through rather than doing it himself. His altitude was 30,000 feet as a leader, not 5,000 feet. It took coaching and practice but he learned to stay at the right altitude.
This does not mean that leaders are aloof or distant from those they lead. Leaders are always with those they lead. What it means is that we are doing those tasks that are appropriate for our current role and have given up those things that were appropriate for our past role. You cannot take on new responsibility - and do it well - without giving up old responsibility.
Further, when we hang on to the old tasks we disempower those who should be responsible for those tasks. Remember, healthy leaders make the transition from independent producer to leading through others. This transition - related pain of loss is a natural result of agreeing to fly at a higher altitude than we previously did.
Understand the altitude that you need to fly at and stay there. It is a transition from a lower to a higher altitude. It requires you to give things away, empower others and ultimately to lead at the level you need to lead. When you lead at the right altitude, you allow others to lead at their appropriate altitude.