I had success all wrong.
As an individual software developer, when my code did what it was supposed to do, the way it was supposed to do it, that was success.
Then I became a leader of software developers. In that role, when our team project delivered what it was supposed to deliver, the way it was supposed to deliver it, that felt like success to me.
Then I became a leader of leaders.
I thought that success meant every team under my umbrella delivered successful projects. Failure of any of them felt like a personal failure.
And that is why I failed at first.
As a leader of leaders, it’s not just the success of your teams’ projects that determines your success. In fact, it’s not even mostly that.
Success is the development of your leaders so that they can succeed.
And their development means giving them room to fail.
Sure, you need to stay involved enough that their failure doesn’t become fatal – to the company, to a client, to their career. But experiencing the failure of an experiment is often exactly what a developing leader needs.
When complete success was crucial to my identity as a leader, I was no longer a good candidate to help others grow. That meant my influence had reached it limit.
I originally became a leader because I was given the space to experiment and fail and learn. Only by giving that same opportunity to those in my span of control did I become ready to grow again as a leader.