We’ve all worked for a “My way or the highway!” manager at some point. Perhaps it builds character, but it certainly diminishes an organization’s capacity to achieve its best. In fact, the leaders who promote sustainable achievements challenge their people to think and act for themselves.
Case in point: An executive told me she was having trouble getting her leadership team to think and act more independently of her “guidance.” She said, “I end up just telling them, do this part then bring it to me and we”ll review it. It’s exhausting. And by the way, isn’t that what I pay them to do?”
Interviewing her leadership team, I saw this was the way she’d always managed them, and they’d “learned” that doing things their own way came with penalties. They said, “She’s brilliant but incredibly impatient. When we did things on our own, or our own way, she was all over us, super critical or just ended up doing them herself.”
Directive versus delegative is a key distinction between manager and leader, one that, with some practice on her part, helped her and her team deliver their best results. When delegating, it meant she needed to explain why it was important and relevant to do, delegate what she wanted done, and stop telling them how they should do it.
Think about the manager as the quarterback, running each and every play with the team. A strong leader, in contrast, is more like the coach, guiding the overall effort from the perspective of the big picture; the key strategic and tactical imperatives – and from a careful distance.
The manager’s challenge is “How do I get them to do it with me, my way?” But a leader needs to ask the questions that capitalize on his or her investment in people: “What do I need to change in the way I am delegating to launch them into effective, independent action?”
The manager’s approach requires constant care — feeding your people the steps. If your attention turns elsewhere, even briefly, their progress will stall until you give the next directive, all of which eats up a disproportionate amount of your attention, and creates dependency rather than builds capabilities. Good people don’t grow in this situation, and they tend to leave — so overall, this is a recipe for diminishing returns and turnover.
The leader’s approach makes the best use of your time and energy: Give your people the strategic and tactical context, the “why” of what you need them to do, and the power to do it their own way, even if it’s not the way you would approach it. Let them discover (and learn from) the results they achieve – or fail to achieve — on their own.
You’re paying your key people too much to think for them. Help them help you by having them think at their best, continuously learn, and hold them accountable for the results rather than focus your energy on how they are achieved.
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