Seeing your teenage daughter or son fight through their adolescent years trying to make decisions. Watching one of your mangers struggle with a project or controlling an employee. These are real life situations in which you probably want to step in and fix the problem.
If you constantly intervene, make decisions and direct their actions, what will they learn? Nothing? Great leaders coach, teach and mentor folks through these times. They support them with advice, listening and making suggestions, but they don’t do it for them.
In 1984, I was appointed to my first managerial position. I had 14 salaried employees and we were responsible for scheduling the manufacturing shop. The shop consisted of 500 employees and more than 100 pieces of equipment.
We had a Line-of-Balance status meeting every Tuesday with the GM, and it was my team’s job to prepare, print and present the components status. Everything was manual, no on-line status, no bar coding, etc. I had held one of the production control specialist job prior to becoming the manager of the team.
A couple of weeks into my promotion, on a Monday evening, I was still in the plant at 7:30 p.m. and the GM was on his way out when he stopped by my desk. He says “Bob what are you still doing here? You should be home having dinner with your family.”
I said I had to get these LOB status reports completed by tomorrow morning for his meeting. He said, “Where are your people? Why didn’t you have them help pull the charts together? If you’re going to be a successful leader, you have to learn to delegate and give away what you’re best at. We selected you for this position because you knew the job and we felt you had longer-term leadership potential.”
He was right: why was I the only one here late at night. One person versus 15 working on the same task is much more powerful. This was a significant event in my leadership journey.
Give Away What You’re Best At
How many times do we in business take the person that is the inventor, the patent holder, the top scientist or the person who knows the most about the operation and put them in charge of people?
After a few months, we find that some or many of the tasks are not being completed. These types of folks tend to spend time on the things they like; it’s part of their comfort zone.
I was doing the same thing in the example above. I had to stop doing the tactical tasks; become more strategic within the organization, teach my folks and let my people do the work.
I was hired to develop talent, assess folk’s skills and help them acquire new competencies so they can achieve new heights. It was no longer about me; it was about my responsibility to grow your team.
Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
We’ve all had a boss who was directing our every move. Leaders learn how to set the goals, make them clear, make them measurable and let the team do the work.
Leading managers is different and more challenging. It requires more patience and more coaching.
Nobody wants someone to consistently be watching over them, they need the freedom and flexibility to do things their way. A common mistake is to skip a level of management and go directly to the people because you have no faith in your managers.
Do not meddle. Coach, teach and train.
Build the Team
In the early 1990s, we opened a self-directed work teams’ facility at GE Aviation. This new organizational model was aimed at increasing engagement by allowing the workers to manage day-to-day operations.
We had no layers, one classification with a highly multi-skilled workforce. Everyone reported to the plant leader and each person was required to serve on a committee.
After two years we exceeded our expectations, morale was high, people felt responsibility and accountability. The workforce felt empowered, it was an open atmosphere and the metrics were off the chart.
We had chosen a dynamic leader to start the facility. He was inclusive and encouraging. His patience was endless. He listened. He was promoted and we hired a new leader — and that’s when things went south for a while.
We hired a person who could not give up his authority. He never embraced the fact that everyone had a voice and was engaged. His tenure at the plant was never smooth, always challenging. The team still performed in spite of this person but there was constant tension.
We learned our lesson and selected an engaging leader and never looked back. She was one of the most successful leaders at this plant.
This is her description of leadership: “Inclusiveness and accessibility are key to leading a successful teaming environment. At this plant, my office was right out on the shop floor, and even though we had formal meetings and communications, the informal connectivity ‘swing by my desk’ enhanced the relationships and trust.
Once that foundation is set, respect and credibility quickly follow. There were occasions I needed to redirect teams when they got off track. A quick intervention by myself either informally or through the formal processes helped gain consensus on a particularly tough challenge.”
Make sure you set clear simple goals, measure them, guide, teach your leaders and empower the team. It’s the result we want and the “how to” should be left to the inspired folks.