Squeaky Wheels can be a huge time sink. You can either tolerate their interruptions or change their behaviors. In our new book Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results (CLICK HERE to get your copy), we share the following techniques for how you can wean a Squeaky Wheel from needing so much of your time. Here’s an excerpt from the book to illustrate the approach. First a story, then the techniques…
Regina the Squeaky Wheel
Stepping into an operating role was a big move for Regina. Prior to taking her new job at the bank, she’d been a consultant at a global firm. She had been a high performer there – she was analytical, driven, and got along well with clients.
Regina’s new role at the bank was both exciting and intimidating. She was responsible for four associates focused on business improvement analysis projects and had dotted line responsibility for a call center operations group of fifteen people who executed her team’s ideas.
Gail hired Regina because of her analytical skills. Regina always found insightful ways to crack problems others couldn’t solve. Her role’s operational and leadership aspects, however, intimidated Regina.
She wasn’t sure about this whole leadership thing – let alone leading in a fast-paced operating environment. She found herself questioning her decisions dozens of times before taking action. While most of her choices were correct, she did make three high-profile mistakes. Those mistakes could have been avoided had Regina spent less time talking with her team about their analyses and more time thinking through their recommendations’ operational impacts.
Regina became hesitant to make decisions and devoted all her time to the number crunching she was more comfortable with. To compensate for her decision-making fears, she began relying on Gail to make decisions for her.
Gail noticed Regina was spending a significant amount of time asking for guidance before rolling out ideas. She set up twice-weekly meetings with Gail – one to discuss project decisions and another for coaching on how to lead her direct reports. Gail found Regina’s behaviors were causing her to neglect other team members because she didn’t have the time to spare. Something had to change!
Gail discussed the situation with Regina:
“I think you and your team are doing amazing work. I know we had a few projects that didn’t go as well as we would have liked but on balance, you’re doing a great job. I do need a few things to change though. I’d like you to spend more time thinking things through before bringing them to me.”
“But you always have interesting perspectives and bring up issues I haven’t thought of.”
“That’s the point. You haven’t thought of them. I’d like to see you spend more time asking yourself ‘What am I missing?’ or ‘What’s Gail going to say I should do?’. I know if you invest the time you’ll come up with most of the answers we’re developing in our time together. No more regularly scheduled time – we’ll only meet when you have an issue you can’t solve on your own. Can we try that?”
“Um, okay. I’m still nervous about making operational decisions.”
“I won’t let you fail and I’ll always be available for critical decisions. All I want is for you to push your thinking further before you involve me.”
Gail saw less of Regina. There were still times Regina dropped by Gail’s office or sent her emails asking for her perspective but they were less frequent occurrences. Gail took a different approach to replying. Instead of giving Regina answers, she began asking “What’s my answer going to be?” When Regina answered correctly, Gail would reply “Well then do that. You don’t need to come to me. I trust you. Trust yourself. Your instincts are correct.”
When Regina went to Gail with difficult questions, they sat down and worked out a plan for Regina to find the answer and report back when she had one. While there were occasions when Gail had to provide the answer, those situations were rare.
Eventually, Regina felt more confident in her decision-making abilities. She spent less time seeking Gail’s input and instead went to her team for answers. Gail was thrilled with Regina’s progress. She loved having more time available to get her own work done. She had oiled the Squeaky Wheel on her team and things ran much more smoothly.
Approaches for Leading a Squeaky Wheel
Leading Squeaky Wheels requires you to figure out how to “Wean” them. You want them to keep delivering the results they’ve consistently produced, but you need them to do it without leaning too heavily on you. Taking back control of the interactions you have with a Squeaky Wheel is how you’ll drive their behavioral change.
You may love your “open door” policy as a way to stay accessible, but Squeaky Wheels abuse it. Instead of you being able to focus them on being self-reliant, they’re the ones choosing when to meet and what to talk about. Not only is this an inefficient use of your time, it’s counter-productive to their development. If a Squeaky Wheel knows they can come to you at any time to think for them or solve their problems, they’re not going to try to develop those skills themselves.
The way to break this habit is to direct them to bring up these issues during their scheduled check-ins with you. When they pop in to your office, have them wait to talk about the issue in your next check-in. Forcing a Squeaky Wheel to plan ahead encourages them to be more proactive in thinking about their work. When they lose the instant gratification of you solving their problem on their timeline, they’ll be forced to solve problems on their own.
When Squeaky Wheels ask for assistance with something they should learn to do on their own, tell them to come back after they’ve tried a new solution themselves. For example, if they ask you to contact someone to get that person to cooperate with them, tell them they have to try new ways to get the “yes” they’re looking for before you’ll intervene.
The best way to wean a Squeaky Wheel is teaching them how to solve their own problems. If you can teach them how to generate more solutions and insist they try them before they involve you, the amount of your time and energy they require will decrease.
For an in-depth look at techniques for leading all different types of team members, pick up a copy of the book (CLICK HERE to get your copy now) and check out the book’s website. We have a nifty assessment tool there where you can answer a few simple questions about your team members and get clear recommendations on how to lead them more effectively.
In addition to the book, classroom instruction and keynote presentations on the Lead Inside the Box method are available. Please contact us to arrange for this course to be trained at your organization or to have us come deliver a keynote presentation on the topic at your next event.
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