Bucket lists are usually framed in terms of personal dreams: climbing Mt. Everest, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, visiting Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris, wandering the galleries of Angkor Wat, and so forth.
But what if you came up with a Leadership Bucket List, describing acts of leadership you absolutely must carry out at least once? What would that look like?
Obviously we’d all have different lists, but here’s one for your consideration:
1) Spend meaningful time – a day, a week – doing the job of the lowest-paid employee in your department or organization. What better way to practice “servant leadership” than by actually experiencing what the “servants” do day after day?
2) Pick out the most important task you currently have on your agenda, and ask a trusted subordinate to do it for you. (Offer your help where necessary, of course, but put the task on their plate.) If you’ve trained and prepared your people as you should, this person will be up to it.
3) Identify a pressing business problem and get your team to create a solution. Don’t suggest a solution and solicit comments. Tell the team you will go along with whatever they come up with, as long as it’s serious and not ruinously expensive. Do you trust them enough to keep your promise?
4) Give an important (but not business-critical) task to a low-performing member of your department or team. Tell the person it will be a challenge, but you’re confident they can achieve it. Note: The worst that can happen is that the person fails. This won’t harm your perception of them as a low performer. The best is that the person succeeds. This could transform their opinion of themselves.
5) Schedule two or three weeks of vacation and ask a trusted subordinate to take your place while you’re gone. Empower the person to act for you in any capacity — appointments with customers or vendors, high-level executive meetings, etc. Don’t just slot them in as a caretaker.
6) Take your team on an offsite retreat, for a week or a long weekend. Prepare by making a list of your five most critical functions, and explain – in detail – what each entails. Tell the team you want every one of them to be prepared to step in for you, should the need arise. Use the non-instructional time for low-key team-building exercises, like bowling, pool, horseshoes or other non-strenuous activities that all can enjoy.
7) Ask each of your subordinates to draft a mission statement for the team or organization. In a meeting, compare each person’s contribution, with each other and with the official mission statement, if any. Be prepared to change the latter if the team’s work is more visionary, more evocative, or more precise.
8) When your department or team meets an important goal, present it to higher management as an achievement in which you played a minor role and the team took the lead.
9) Hold a meeting and ask each team member to enunciate their greatest strength and greatest weakness. Go first. Afterward, in individual meetings, use the strengths to build each person’s confidence and the weaknesses to challenge them to improve.
10) Make a difficult promise – one that stretches you – to your team and then be sure to honor it. By honoring your promise, we mean either keeping it or, if that turns out to be impossible, explaining honestly why you couldn’t.
One more thing about this Leadership Bucket List: Even if you aren’t going to be leaving anytime soon (the organization or the world!), carrying it out will help you be a more aware, more effective leader for the time that remains to you.