13: The Law of Reproduction

The law of reproduction maintains that great leaders create more great leaders. In large organizations, the top leaders cannot possibly manage the work of tens of thousands of others: he must instead teach his immediate staff to be good leaders, and they must pass on the lesson, until good leadership permeates every level of the organization.

He looks again to sports, particularly football: the one thing that most great coaches have in common is that they learned from great mentors. More than 80% of coaches who led their teams to the championship were at one time an assistant coach on a team that was led to the Superbowl by another great coach.

In leadership seminars, the author has conducted an informal survey of attendees. One of the questions asked them how they became leaders, and an overwhelming number of respondents (85%) indicated that they had become a leader through the influence of another leader.

Some people, a very small group, feel that they have the natural gifts and innate instincts to rise to leadership all on their own. But the vast majority recognize that leadership is a learned skill, and one which they learned from someone else who was already skilled in it.

If you think about it, it shouldn't be difficult to grasp: a great leader has learned from those before him, and passes on his knowledge to those who come after him.

Some Do it, Some Don't

In the chapter on the law of respect, the author explained that people see to follow others who are stronger than themselves - and in that sense, people who wish to become leaders gravitate toward those who demonstrate leadership ability.

It's also true that a person cannot effectively reach others things they do not know. You cannot learn how to be a good leader unless you are exposed to those who are good leaders.

Even so, not all leaders develop others into leaders. Sometimes, it is because they are not, in fact, leaders, merely occupants of leadership positions who manage, rather than lead. In other instances, they may be so focused on their objectives that they don't give attention to their key staff.

There's also the fear of being supplanted, as mentioned in the chapter on empowerment. The author mentions the childhood game of "follow the leader," in which the objective was to remain in the lead, but the tactic many children to maintain that position is to purposefully try to get your followers to make mistakes. The problem with the games is that in order to win, you have to make other people fail.

This is exactly the opposite to the tactics that make leaders successful later in life. If you make your supporters fail, you fail along with them - you maintain domination and control of a failing group.

We Teach What We Know--We Reproduce What We Are

It's often remarked that a boy grows up to be "just like his father." It's not just as his father wanted him to be, but just as his father was. We learn more from watching what a person does than listening to what he says, ad this tendency follows through to our adult life.

If your aim is to be a great leader, then seek to become a follower of the best leaders you can find. It's a profession, like any other, that is best learned from a skilled practitioner rather than a theorist.

To the father who wishes to raise a strong son, or a leader who wishes to surround himself with strong followers, the same is true: be strong yourself, and those who follow you will learn from your strength.

He also notes that leadership is leadership, no matter where you go. What makes a person a good leader of a nonprofit group, a sports team, or a military unit, makes him a strong leader in a corporation. What makes a person a good leader in a small organization will make him a good leader in a large one.

(EN: I have some reluctance to accept this entirely. It makes sense that leaders in all organizations have certain characteristics in common, but I cannot overcome the sense that at least some of the traits that make a person effective in one organization work against them in another.)

Take the Next Step

The author provides a few tips for leaders who wish to develop others:

The Impact Carries Over

The law of reproduction echoes throughout an organization. Poor leaders disempower and weaken those beneath them and around them; strong leaders empower and strengthen the same. If a company has strong leaders, and they are active in spreading good leadership practices, then the organization as a whole gets better.

Not only does good leadership permeate an organization, but it also spreads to other organization. As an example, the author provides a list of twenty CEOs of Fortune 500 companies who at one time worked at GE.

How was GE able to produce so many outstanding leaders? It made it a priority, spending more than $500 million per year training and developing leaders at its own institute. And even more importantly, it does so because the top man at GE, Jack Welch, is counted among the greatest of business leaders, and a man who recognized the value of the law of reproduction.