This is perhaps the most challenging Leadership Principle because it requires you to let go, trust someone else, and lose control of the ultimate outcome. Who’s scared? I am (and have been on several occasions). Losing control can be terrifying but it’s the key to successfully implementing this principle. You know you’re successfully at the edge of control when you’re shouting like Scotty on Star Trek (“I can’t hold her cap’n! She’s breaking up!”).
Developing a sense of responsibility in your subordinates and team members requires YOU to act differently before they can. This principle is all about giving your team opportunities to learn and grow. It demonstrates your interest in their growth as a professional and proves how much you trust them to work on things that really matter.
Rather than belabor a long drawn out explanation of why it’s important and uncomfortable to give people responsibility (and assume risk in doing so), I encourage you to read this previous post on leading through risk-taking. Remember – your job as a leader is to set direction, provide encouragement, and take corrective action when things aren’t going well (notice I didn’t say “perform every task yourself”). Before we explore why this principle is so important, allow me to share an example of me failing at it.
I can be a bit of a perfectionist. (A bit?!?! I thought you were self-aware Mike…). That propensity makes it difficult to give up control out of fear that the task won’t be carried out to my own personal standard of perfection.
I was managing a client project and leading a small team. There were three major pieces of work to be done (actually one large piece and two small ones). The members of my team were relatively new to the company and I was new to managing client engagements. To mitigate the risk of things not going well, I decided to take on the largest piece of work and delegate the other two pieces to members of the team.
Things seemed to be going well. I was knocking out my workstream because it was analysis and information I was very familiar and comfortable with. The team members seemed to be doing okay on their smaller workstreams too. Everything was great in Paradise.
Then I met with the senior partner on the team. They started asking me about broader issues related to the engagement (the client’s overall strategy, client relations, identification of future pieces of work, etc.). I was at a complete loss to discuss these issues even though on reflection they were squarely my responsibility. I couldn’t do it because I had failed to apply this leadership principle.
I kept the “difficult” work for myself to prevent it from being messed up and not meeting my standards. I definitely accomplished that goal. Unfortunately, I had burdened myself with so much work that I should have delegated to the team (but didn’t because I wasn’t willing to take a bet and make room for them to grow) that I didn’t perform my real responsibilities. The partner’s questions were all legit. I had been too consumed doing Excel to have time to think about those critical aspects of the problem.
On top of that, my team members felt a little stifled and “underdeveloped.” They quickly mastered their assigned workstreams (mostly because they were smarter than I was) and grew bored with them. They also craved some additional coaching and feedback from me on how they could improve but I was too consumed with my workstream to have time to provide that guidance. Needless to say things didn’t go well.
After the session with the partner, I adopted the principles of this principle (yes, I realize I just typed that twice). Things quickly got better. I relinquished some degree of control, took a bet on my team, and focused my efforts on broader problems as well as more coaching of my associates. It was a big change but I’ve never looked back and I’m glad I learned that lesson.
The result of successfully adopting this principle is you’ll grow and your people will grow. They’ll feel like a larger part of the solution because they’re contributing more. They’ll trust you more because you’re demonstrating trust in them. And ultimately, you’ll help them build their skills to the point that you can fulfill the challenge of being a net exporter of talent.
So how are you employing this principle as a leader? What changes do you need to or plan on making to do so? What are the biggest challenges you face in doing this effectively?
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC