Developing Others as Leaders (a.k.a. Why Cloning Yourself Is a Bad Idea)

Contributed by Amy Stack, JLM President

Have you ever wished you could clone yourself?

As a person who is admittedly driven by the things I think I should do or could do, I find myself wishing I had more time to do it all. Or, better yet, what if there was another me to pitch in? Just imagine how much I could accomplish!

And, inevitably after wishing for another me, I realize two things:

First, that thought process overuses the word “I.” Simply put, the world doesn’t need another me. What value does it add to have another person with an identical world view, the same approach to solving a tough problem or no variation in thought or experience? Sure, it may make things easier in the short-term (no conflict over what to do or how to do it and an incessant flow of dazzling conversation). But in the long-term, there would be a lack of other perspectives. What if there is a better way to solve the problem? What if there is something important that I’m not considering? What if the skills needed were not my areas of strength?  (Gasp! What if accounting was involved!?)

Second, I could be way more effective at getting to those things that should be done or could be done if I involved others in the process by developing them as leaders. What’s better than a clone of me is a group of leaders who represent diverse backgrounds, perspectives and gifts to offer the world.

So, how does one go about developing others as leaders? Thankfully, I’ve had the privilege to experience this firsthand through involvement in the Junior League of Memphis (JLM) and have noticed these common themes:

Developing others as leaders requires a commitment to being relational. The greatest investment one can make in another person is the gift of focused time. Use this time to pour encouragement, truth and accountability into the person you’ve identified as a leader. Let that person get to know you and have a front-row seat to your challenges, victories and lessons learned. In short, be real together.

Developing others as leaders requires comfort with growing pains and maybe even some mistakes. One of the things I most appreciate about my service in the JLM is the opportunity to learn and grow and “test” skills from the safety of a volunteer role. The JLM was the first place I managed other people, learned to actually (really, yes, for real) delegate, developed a large budget and set large-scale strategies. I know the women who coached and led me in those years saw a fair share of my mistakes and bumps – and they still do. But, rather than doing the job for me, they guided me through it. They were patient with my mistakes and growing pains for the sake of a volunteer emerging as a better, more developed leader. If you’ve had this experienced, pay it forward. Be comfortable with some mistakes and know that the long-term value of a seasoned leader is the better result every time.

Developing others as leaders requires modeling a better story. Each year, I make it a practice to read “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned from Editing my Life.” The premise of this true story is that Don Miller, the author, is approached by screenwriters interested in turning one of his previous books (Blue Like Jazz, a memoir about his journey of faith) into a movie. When they get down to the process of actually converting the plot from the book to the screen, it falls flat. There isn’t enough action. It needed to be a better story. In this book, Don tells what happens when he commits to editing his life and making it a better story – it needed more action, and he as the central character in his own life needed to develop more. When we live a better story – one full of purpose, intent and conviction – we draw others into that story and it becomes a part of their better story, too. We live a story worth repeating and that happens in the form of other leaders who commit to living with purpose.

So, don’t wish you could clone yourself. That’s too small of an idea. Rather, develop others as leaders and see an impact that is exponential.