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August 2008


People often complain they can’t build teams, can’t empower teams, can’t let go of control, can’t focus their own efforts better. There are various expressed and often ‘unexpressed’ fears and frankly rationalizations for why they can’t, or won’t, or don’t. Let’s go through the most famous ones and explode the myths that underlie them.

#1 TERROR — I’ll feel nervous and guilty if I don’t do it myself. Hey folks, we’re in the Results economy not the Plod On economy. You’re paid for results, and you can’t magnify those results if you don’t leverage your people assets. Certainly do those things personally that play to your talents and which represent the highest value you’ve been hired to add. Equally, enroll others and allow them to shine in their area of talent or ability. Not only will they do a great job for you, they’ll both respect and hugely appreciate you for it as well!

#2 IT’S EASIER — to do it myself. It’s not actually easier it’s just more expedient. However, if you keep doing everything, you will create a very early achievement plateau. You’ll get increasingly frustrated as you work harder and harder to produce less and less. Contrary to the assertion above, it’s actually a lot easier to focus on where the ROT (return on time) and ROE (return on energy) are the greatest for you as a leader.

That it’s quicker to just jump in yourself rather than coach and develop others may be the case. But it’s not what you’re hired for, and it’s certainly not LEADERSHIP. And once people are developed, then you get the windfall benefits of initiative, creativity and insight you just can’t get by purely mining your own ore.

#3 I’M WORRIED — that they’ll make mistakes. Of course they will! You did too! It’s how we all learn. You’re paying them to hurry up and make intelligent mistakes, learn quickly and deeply, and then deploy that ‘experience’ to fresh achievement and hopefully innovation. You can minimize ‘unintelligent’ mistakes by excellent communication of objectives and expectations, a talent and culture-based hiring strategy, proactive clarity about strategies and projects, by ‘tough love’ mentoring and challenging coaching,and by increasing responsibilities gradually but definitely.

#4 IT’S TOO IMPORTANT — to delegate. It may be too important NOT to delegate! Unless it’s an area of talent or substantial ability for you, why is it safer for you to clamber and crash around? How is your ongoing ‘intrusion’ helping people to perform? Your job here is to lead, to guide, to enthuse, to monitor occasionally, to coach, to keep people focused. It’s not to get operationally involved constantly. Unless you think you’re incidental, be very protective of where you personally engage. Whoever appointed you to the role, is counting on your most intelligent discernment here. Do what you can best do, most of the time.

#5 THEY MIGHT DO IT BETTER — than I can. Fantastic! That means you’re a leader and you’ve hired smart people and you’ve let them loose in areas that aren’t your primary strengths. You look good because your job is to produce results through people not despite people. Get your ego out of the picture, and remember as you share credit, you unleash pride and commitment too. If you’re needed as the savior, then the current results are the best we’ll ever achieve, as you’ll never have the energy or the time to go for anything greater. Nor will you have the ‘space’ to re-invent yourself, which leaders today have to do relentlessly.

Moreover, you as the savior is an ego play, puts people’s backs up, and when you fail, people salute your crash, rather than helping you rebuild from there.

#6 I’M NOT SURE I HAVE THE COURAGE — to kick start this process. Well you must have courage. After all, it takes more courage to underutilize talent and resources and suffocate your own energy and steal your own time. And if you focus on all that your recurring frustration leeches from you, all the dreams it nullifies, all the advancement it frustrates, you’ll find the courage! Your company through your customers is paying you for your expertise AND your leadership. Provide only one, and you won’t be long for that job! And courage is part of being a purposeful and progressive human being. Nobody ‘has’ the courage, we ‘locate’ it, we generate it, step by step if we must, for whatever really matters to us. Our results and our people’s ability had better matter enough to muster courage for, it’s fundamentally what we’re paid to maximize.

#7 HOW DO I KNOW I HAVE THE RIGHT PEOPLE — on my team? First check that they are excited by your team vision. If this doesn’t excite them, review the vision and/or review the team. Next, ensure they fit with your team’s culture and behavioral norms. If these don’t exist, you don’t HAVE a team! If they exist, but haven’t been articulated, you will enhance everything within your team by co-creating them, giving them agreed upon and shared expression. Then, ensure they have talents that your team requires. In other words, they naturally WANT to do and are ABLE to do key things of extraordinary value to your customers and therefore your company. With this tripartite combo you have passion, credibility and capability in hand throughout your team. That’s what each team member has to express in their own way for you to continually raise the bar of performance!

#8 MAYBE I’M NOT — a good manager of others. Okay, then have the team share that responsibility. Or find someone in the team who handles those aspects of management and make them your unofficial deputy. Or enlist everyone as ‘partners’ and not just as ‘employees’. Become their success coach and headhunter within the company. Let them know you’re dedicated to the success of their career. In return their job is to be dedicated to the success of your team while they’re on it.

#9 I’M WORRIED I’M NOT — good at training and developing others. Well, you don’t have to be a charismatic, or an elegant wordsmith. You can mentor, by having people observe you and ask you questions about what you’re doing, and why you do it that way. Essentially you have to do four things relative to developing them in any area.

First, tell them. Second, make sure you, or someone else, shows them. Third, have them explain to you what they’ve understood and how they intend to apply it for themselves. And finally, then you have to watch them as they demonstrate, and then guide and congratulate and/or calibrate accordingly. That’s work-place job coaching in a nutshell!

#10 I’M NOT SURE—I know how to get people to do what I want. By making it rational and meaningful for them. Be in charge, not in control. Be clear about where you’re heading with the team, get everyone aligned around the key end result areas, ensure there is clarity relative to your own standards, provide all the resources you can to help them win. Provide direction and help people understand how they can help create value. If that doesn’t control their behaviour, you’ve got the wrong people! When what you want is what makes most sense for the organization, the team, and themselves, you won’t have to ‘get’ anyone to do what’s needed, you’ll just have to ‘let’ them.

#11 I’M TOO BUSY — to coach, develop, or to communicate what I want. That you’re constantly busy doesn’t mean you’re optimally using your time. Good business does not equal perpetual busyness. How can you have time NOT to communicate? You are then fielding all the fallout from miscommunication, misunderstanding, or else plain detachment and misdirection. Clarify results, the timeframes, how we’ll know a good job has been done, and be accessible for clarifications. It takes less time than we anticipate, and far less time than running around putting out fires your own lack of communication helped to cause in the first place.

#12 HOW DO I MOTIVATE — people and help them retain the right attitude to excellence? First, look for self-motivated people. Your job is not to motivate, it’s to enroll, focus, encourage. You can help people STAY motivated but not GET motivated. Find out the demotivators in the environment. Those are enemies of world-class performance. Go to war on them ruthlessly. That’s when people will begin to trust you. If you let those malinger, all the speechifying in the world won’t move them.

When someone has the wrong attitude, it usually is (assuming it’s not chronic and you haven’t hired a die-hard sourpuss) because their expectations and reality are out of line. Locate the gap, and either challenge them to narrow it through their innovation and dedication, or tackle it on their behalf if you agree the cause is internal and senseless. You show the highest leadership when you’re mature enough to discern when YOU are the demotivator, and learn how to better engage and grow your people. Nobody expects you to be perfect. But your acknowledging the difficulty openly, taking accountability, and making the effort is enough to let people know they matter. When they know they matter to us, the work they’re doing for us tends to matter to them as well.

Our job as leaders is to build focused teams of people continually growing in personal capability and response ability. Such empowerment is essentially being able to take decisions that impact the quality of the work you do. It is to feel meaningful. When we feel we don’t matter, everything in our behavior and even our energy reflects that.

The above excuses often keep us from catalyzing the above dynamic. Our job as leaders is to dismantle the excuses and build up the individuals that make up our team: their skill, their collaboration, their ability to add increasing value, their success. Only when we do this, do we show we truly ARE…leaders!