Too often leaders get themselves unnecessarily bogged down in the mechanics of being a “manager” of the business that we neglect being actual leaders of people. There are 10 conference calls growling for your attention, timesheets whining and crying to be verified and 3 major deadlines that are out for your blood. So, we lock ourselves in our office, hoping that we don’t get the dreaded question from our team member creeping in, “you have a minute”? In our head, we’re listing all 82 things we must get done today and the 12 we’re working on RIGHT NOW so while we mean to do our favorite cover-up, “sure, what can I help you with”, we unconsciously blurt out everything that’s hogging our attention at the moment. When that fails to scare our untimely visitor, we land in the most dangerous place any leader can be on, push back island. Where everything, regardless of urgency or impact gets pushed back on your team member.
Sound like you or a Leader you know? Keep reading because what you are probably unaware of is that you’re taking small stabs at your credibility as a Leader and eating away at the trust you’re working hard to maintain.Your team members want and need to feel supported. They are providing you with a platform to lead. Now, before you throw on your cape and attempt to answer every cry for help understand that there is a thin line between supporting and enabling and you do not want to become an enabler. Enablers do all the fishing, cleaning and feeding, then wonder why they’re running a day care and not a business staffed by adults.
The most effective leaders live in the support role and we park ourselves right next to proactive -empowerment. Proactive empowerment is what you do before you lock yourself in your office for 6 hours attempting to shut the world off while you knock down your attention craving deadlines. Proactive empowerment is what separates busy leaders from productive leaders. It’s that place of confidence that allows you to give instructions, give authority then give way.
Have a conversation with your team at the top of the day or once you’ve realized that you’ll need seclusion. Give them a general summary of the types of projects that need your undivided attention and an estimated time frame for when you expect to become available. Whether you take the approach of leaving one person in charge or everyone in charge of themselves explain that you will need their help in handling the complex situations in your absence and that they should use every resource available to work through issues. Express that you are depending on them to make smart decisions for the company and that you are trusting them to act and respond on your behalf.
In a perfect world, everyone would take heed and the business would run on a bubbly cloud of productivity while you are in the ring knocking down assignment after assignment giving those deadlines a serious black eye. When you find that perfect world, please give me a shout lol! For those of us stuck here in the real world, we’re not finished yet. After we’ve expressed our need we then must give authority. Again, whether you have a point person or not, you must make it known that each person is empowered to act in a way that best represents the business and that everyone is accountable for their part. And of course, we can’t discuss accountability without discussing her brother, consequence.
Once we’ve firmly let everyone know that they’re accountable for their actions and choices, we lay out the consequence for stepping out of bounds on purpose. This does not mean punishing someone because they mishandled a situation by mistake or screwed up a client’s account trying to fix it. As a matter of fact, if the word punished didn’t make you feel a little comfortable I’ll need you to re-evaluate why you’re leading people in the first place. As leaders, we don’t punish. We don’t punish, we don’t intimidate and we don’t threaten. We express our expectations and we give way for our team members to operate within the guidelines. In the middle of those two, the communicated consequences for purposely operating outside of the expected guidelines should be clear and concise actions that you will take. Those actions can include a write-up, a suspension or other corrective action tools provided to you. And don’t misunderstand, these are not to be used for honest mistakes, these are in place for intentional disruption to the business.
Finally, we give way. We reassure everyone that we are trusting them to do their very best and that we will address all extreme matters when we become available. Allowing your team to steer the ship alone gives you valuable insight into their performance capabilities that you might not otherwise have discovered. Knowledge gaps will be exposed, your potential leaders will surface and your “do it behind your backers” will run into the light. When you’ve made yourself available again, be sure to reflect with the team. Before anything, show appreciation for their efforts and if there are positive highlights, acknowledge them. Give the team honest feedback regarding how they managed themselves and provide actionable advice they can use for the next time. Deal with anyone who has earned a consequence right away. Do that in private and in a way, that that leaves their confidence and willingness to try again firmly in place. This is team building in its finest hour and as the leader, you my friend are the mason.
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