I was sipping coffee this morning and thinking about a facilitated town hall/Q&A session I did recently for leaders and aspiring leaders of a well-known Atlanta company on the content from my last book, Essential Wisdom for Leaders of Every Generation. I was invited to speak at the event by an old friend and senior leader who I have known for many years and served with on a non-profit board for almost a decade. In the weeks leading up to the town hall and the actual day itself, I actively engaged with a talented young protégé of my friend who was introduced to me in the first planning discussion as the point person who would handle all the planning and logistics. The younger colleague was praised by my friend as talented, completely trustworthy, “a rising star in our company” and “one of our best” as I surprisingly saw little of my friend in the coming weeks and this younger colleague expertly steered me through the planning and event without a hitch. He did a fantastic job and I hope we can work together again. What strikes me as interesting was the intentional approach my friend had to elevating and praising a younger colleague to help me feel more at ease, for giving this young leader an opportunity to shine and how he effortlessly and subtly exited from most of the planning so he could focus on his more important executive responsibilities. I also now have faith and trust in this impressive young leader I have gotten to know and feel invested in helping him succeed in the future. Why is this important?
Consider the brief story I just shared as an example of anointed credibility. This is an approach I have taken numerous times in my career when I recognized that my clients often wanted to work primarily with me, based on our past working relationship and because I carried a senior title. It was physically impossible for me to manage every aspect of the work my clients wanted from me and my teams, so I would always bring a more junior colleague along with me on a first meeting to discuss a new project or engagement. These colleagues on my team were bright, talented, seeking development and looking to grow their careers. I had full faith in their abilities, but they were unknown to my often skeptical clients. I “anointed” these more junior members of the team by making it clear to my clients I believed in them, trusted them and knew they would do excellent work. In essence, I was asking the client to trust my judgment. Yes, I put my own credibility as risk in doing so, but at some point leaders have to be willing to take that chance to offer opportunities for our team members to grow and develop. Much like the outcome from the story about my friend and his younger colleague, my clients began working with these junior colleagues, the outcomes were typically very good, these aspiring leaders gained invaluable experiences and I could focus on leading the business, developing new client relationships and engaging in the more strategic aspects of my job.
If you are a leader looking to more intentionally embrace the anointed credibility approach, here are four thoughts to consider:
- Invest your time. How well do you know your direct reports? The rest of your team? Do you know their capabilities and career aspirations? How much 1:1 time do they get from you? Putting forth team members for important growth opportunities and moments to shine is risky and difficult when you don’t really know them. Make this time investment a priority.
- Discernment, clarity and empowerment. Discern who on the team is ready to step up and embrace this challenge. Be clear about your expectations and let them know you are available if needed, but empower them to do the work and define their decision-making rights.
- Delegation, development and letting go. Leaders who struggle to delegate will have difficulty with the anointed credibility concept. One way to get out of the weeds is to identify who can do the work (or be trained to do the work) you are currently doing and trust them to do it. The best leaders are always developing themselves and those around them. By letting go of certain aspects of your work and giving others on the team an opportunity to shine, you are contributing in a meaningful way to their development and freeing you up (as my good friend Brandon Smith says) to “work more on the business, not in the business.”
- Avoid mini–me’s and diversify your thinking. There is sometimes a tendency to primarily practice anointed credibility with those who look, think and act just like us. I challenge you to expand the aperture of your thinking and diversify by seeking team members who may sometimes get overlooked for these kinds of opportunities or those who think outside the box.
While this post is primarily tilted towards leaders interested in more intentionally embracing the practice of anointed credibility, I encourage younger professionals looking to advance your careers to think carefully about what this post might mean for you. In chapter four of my book, Essential Wisdom for Leaders of Every Generation, I wrote in detail about the importance of professional credibility and how to earn it. What this post offers is another path forward in gaining credibility, but you should first ask yourself these questions and carefully reflect on your answers:
Am I willing to do what it takes to learn and grow?
Will I do more than just the minimum requirements and give that little extra that leaders may recognize and reward?
Do I ask for more responsibility, volunteer for projects/tasks and seek opportunities to prove myself?
Do I have a strong work ethic?
Have I sought out time with my boss and other senior leaders to learn from them, be curious about their career experiences, build trusting relationships and seek their advocacy for opportunities?
Meet your leader(s) at least half-way. Don’t wait in silence to be asked to do more. Sometimes you have to raise your hand and express your interest. Be comfortable with the idea that you must often earn the right to get opportunities and nothing meaningful comes our way without hard work. The clear payoff is your own growth and development, accelerated career success and increased self-confidence.
I have great faith in the generations joining the workforce and believe we should all do more to help them. They may think and act differently, but these younger colleagues are our future senior leaders and it is vitally important they are successful. We, who may be from older generations, have an obligation to mentor them, train them, develop their leadership skills and provide them with opportunities to shine. The intentional practice of anointed credibility is a helpful, proven and necessary approach to helping these junior and aspiring leaders with a leg up…the same leg up we may have been offered along the way in our careers. I know I benefited significantly as a young professional when senior leaders helped me and offered me opportunities the way I have described in this post.
Here is my respectful challenge to you: In the coming weeks, look for at least two meaningful opportunities to offer anointed credibility to junior members of your team. Set them up for success with the internal or external client, make it clear these junior members have your trust and support, give clear direction, empower them…and get out of the way. I promise you will survive and most importantly, your younger colleagues will gain invaluable lessons, experience and increased confidence.