I’ve often said, “if leadership doesn’t scale neither will your organization.” Experience has led me to conclude there is no greater contribution a leader can make to the enterprise than developing a true culture of leadership.

Here’s the thing – a culture of leadership can only exist when leaders understand their primary obligation is to develop other leaders. If leadership is sought after, valued, developed, and rewarded, then good things will happen. In today’s column, I’ll examine the value of creating a culture of leadership.

The scale is not an individual endeavor – it’s a cultural and organizational achievement that requires the right set of collaborative individual efforts. People don’t scale, but effective groups, teams, and organizations can create scale. Well-intended, but ill-equipped leaders push individuals for more output, where savvy leaders teach and mentor individuals to think strategically and create leverage, which in turn, leads to scale. One key to scale is to get leaders to understand that it’s not their job to leverage people but to create leverage for their people.

There’s a difference between acting strategically and understanding strategy. The most valuable leaders are not only astute, but they’re insightful. They don’t just think strategically, they shape strategy – they operationalize the strategy. Perhaps most importantly, they ensure the sustainability of strategic focus by developing a culture of leadership.

The most important thing to remember about leadership and scale is that true leadership is a positive contagion. If allowed to flourish, leadership will consistently reinvent itself at scale. It is only inept, insecure, and/or incompetent leadership that restricts or limits leadership to a select few rather than supporting its spread to the masses.

Team members become most valuable to an organization when their strategic skills (thinking/teaching/mentoring/coaching) are leveraged far beyond what their tactical (doing) skills could ever achieve. When individuals enlighten, inform, and empower groups to be more productive, scale is achieved.

When individuals are pushed to simply “do more,” both the quality and quantity of performance declines. The simple truth is most process glitches and production bottlenecks are individual choke points, not system errors. Scale is not a production issue, technology issue, or money issue – it’s a leadership issue.

Great leaders view each interaction, question, or even conflict as a development opportunity. Don’t answer questions or solve problems just because you can, rather teach your team how to do it for themselves. If you make a habit of solving problems for people, you simply teach them to come to you for solutions at the first sign of a challenge.

So, how do you get your organization to create scale? Stop talking about the process and start talking with your people. The following 5 steps will help you create a culture of leadership and create a scalable organization:

  1. Focus on Leadership: Everything in business begins and ends with leadership. That said, leadership doesn’t just exist at the top of an organization but should be expected of everyone within the organization. Hire leaders, develop them to become better leaders, and teach them to repeat the process.
  2. Organization First: Leadership is influencing the thoughts and actions of others such that individual interests are aligned with business interests. This becomes a reality when placing the organization ahead of the individual becomes culturally ingrained thinking. To truly understand the value of scalable leadership it’s important to first understand the two primary causes of why leadership doesn’t scale. When individual leaders, or even worse, leadership teams view themselves as the doers and not teachers, mentors, and coaches, the organizational scale is quickly sacrificed on the altar of ego and/or incompetence. An execution culture looks good over the short-run but has systemic problems that make it virtually impossible to sustain.
  3. Do Away With Form Over Substance:  I have grown to have a great distaste for 9 box thinking when it comes to leadership development. I question the “best practice” mentality of labeling people and putting them in a box. If talent management and succession planning were as easy as identifying “high potentials” the business world would have many more success stories than currently exist. In fact, I would go so far as to say the phrases key employee or high potential are outdated, elitist terms that create angst and animosity among the ranks. Good leaders view all employees as key, and great leaders don’t label people as high potentials – they ensure people achieve their potential. The fact a company singles out someone as “key” or “high potential” to begin with means at a minimum they have a lack of transparency and continuity in their organization, and more probably, they lack the depth of talent and are weak in process and knowledge management. To create scalable leadership recognize potential but reward performance – the two are often confused but are rarely the same.
  4. Drive Decision Rights Down: The best organizations drive the most complex decisions down and across the company extending decision rights to the edges of the enterprise. If all big decisions are made by an individual or a small group of individuals, your organization won’t scale. Teach, support, and empower the entirety of the organization how to make great decisions and then reward them for doing so.
  5. Embrace Dissenting Opinion: Conflict and challenges are part of the change. If you stifle candor and free thought you stifle the ability to scale. When leaders engage people with stimulating and probing conversation they learn and grow.

The take away here is great leaders don’t create a state of dependency. In fact, they won’t allow dependencies to exist – rather they mandate independent thinking and decision making. Many leaders struggle with understanding that rescuing is not the same thing as leading. To create a culture of leadership and a framework for scale, stop feeding your employees and teach them how to fish…


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This article originally appeared at http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemyatt/2015/12/06/the-1-thing-successful-companies-scale/#4febb7603ad7