This spin through the eleven Leadership Principles has been a fun journey. These principles are a wonderful touchstone for reminding yourself how to lead your team effectively and successfully. This post concludes that series.
Let’s imagine you’ve just taken over your business unit. Your staff turnover is running 58% and right now you’re short-staffed by 20%. Three of your eight direct report manager slots are vacant (and have been for 6 months). Scary, isn’t it? Now here’s the kicker – your boss comes to you and asks you to bump your profit commitment for next year up by 10% AND to increase your market share goal by 5%. His rationale is you’re a great leader and he knows you read the thoughtLEADERS blog (couldn’t resist).
What do you do? He seems to be asking the impossible, if not the insane. My recommendation: call on the 11th Leadership Principle: employ your unit in accordance with its capabilities. So how exactly does that principle help in this case? Let’s discuss…
Employing your unit/team in accordance with its capabilities keeps you out of trouble in many ways. First, it prevents you from overcommitting them and dooming them to failure (which destroys morale and erodes your credibility and loyalty). I’m not saying not to push them out of their comfort zone and not challenge them. I’m simply advocating not taking on truly impossible tasks that they’ll never accomplish.
Second, if you’re signing your team up for the impossible, there’s the risk they perceive your actions as self-aggrandizing and glory seeking. We’ve all worked with or for that person at one point or another. It’s maddening and frustrating. If you’re mindful of your team’s capabilities and put them in situations where they can grow, be challenged, but also have a reasonable chance of success, you’re adhering to this principle well and should see solid results.
“Duh Mike. So how do I do this?” I’m glad you asked. There are a few techniques that are reasonably simple to employ. They are:
– be intimately knowledgeable about your team’s skills and current levels of training. This requires you to interact with them regularly, monitor performance, and coach on a frequent basis.
– keep your boss/stakeholder informed about the status and capabilities of your team (i.e., help them employ this principle as well by ensuring they’re fully informed). The better the information they have, the better the decisions they make can be.
– if your team doesn’t have the capabilities required for the task (as in the above scenario), you as a leader need to stand up and point that out. Here’s a tip – don’t simply say “no, we can’t do that.” Instead, try “yes we can do that if… (insert resource request, cry for assistance, or modified goal here).” I don’t like naysayers. I want solution-oriented people. Don’t bring me problems – bring me solutions.
The way this guidance would play out for me in this scenario is as follows:
“Gee boss, I’d love to tackle your egomaniacal and suicidal new goals! (okay, maybe you leave that part out). I know we’re trying to really grow the business and I understand the task. Here’s the situation – my team is currently understaffed on the front-line due to high turnover and I’m missing folks in a few critical leadership roles. Given those gaps, I can’t hit the targets you’re putting forth without something changing. If you’ll authorize me additional signing bonus or retention bonus dollars, I’m pretty sure I can get you the required return on investment to hit the profit number. On market share, I’ll need the help of some dedicated resources from the marketing and branding groups. If I can get all those things, I’d be able to sign up for those new targets but without those resources, I can’t commit my team to those numbers because I’m pretty sure they can’t achieve them.”
The status of the team is clear to the boss now. He might not have known about the challenges prior to this conversation (shame on you for not telling him sooner and shame on him for being so out of touch). Once he knows that, he might immediately change your targets. If not, you’ve pointed out you can’t get to those numbers without help but you’ve put forth a plan and a suggestion on how to proceed. It’s then up to your boss to decide whether to make the investments and go for the goals or to back off the numbers. The third option (making you go for it anyway – which does sometimes happen) is a pretty poor indication of leadership. If that’s the case, feel free to forward them this blog post.
How do you ensure your team is employed within their capabilities? How do you “manage up” to ensure that’s the case?