I read this article tonight.
Possibly the most common situation at any level of leadership : Overloaded leaders because half their time is spent solving problems that aren’t theirs to solve. Resulting in teams who don’t believe they’re capable because every time the leader solves for them it tells the team they can’t.
And with the best of intentions : to be helpful to the person in need, to get the thing resolved quickly to help the business be successful.
But instead it helps the business be unsuccessful.
As the leader your time is spent on issues which don’t belong to you. Your time is sucked into being the parent in the childrens’ squabbles. You aren’t adding the value you should be with the role you’re employed to do. And neither you nor your team are working as effectively as you could be. Which leads to everyone feeling deflated; lacking motivation through lack of achievement; energy-sapped from feeling stuck in the weeds, underdeveloped because all the challenging stuff is whisked away instead of being trained or coached through.
And it stems from a need for control.
We all have a need for control – some have it more than others but we all have it. Your ability to control (plan, manage, organise) is likely what got you success and into a leadership position in the first place. But what got you to here isn’t what you need now. It’s not what’s going to move you or your team forward.
But this is REALLY hard to let go of. Shifting to deliver through others rather than through your own fair hands takes you a step away from the action. And if you’re not in control of the action does that mean you won’t be seen to be doing a good job – because you’ve learnt in previous roles that being in control is what’s had you do a good job and led to your promotions. And it’s all around you. It seems to be the thing that people get paid, promoted and recognised for. You don’t hear leaders being praised for creating an amazing team to deliver a project – you hear of leaders who delivered the project.
You’ve not tested this “deliver through others” way before and you likely don’t have many role models around you. What if you don’t do a good job and the work fails. What does that mean for how your performance will be seen? What does that mean for your performance review and pay rise and bonus and ultimately your ongoing career? These are the kind of fear-based thoughts which keep people stuck in the control loop.
Or you might have ego-fuelled thoughts because you’ve done this job for years, you know all there is to know, you can show these newbies how it’s done. Look at me showing how I know it all and can do it all! And by showing this knowledge and expertise I get recognised by those above me because that’s what gets valued.
Either way, this is the story that plays in your head:
I keep control – I perform – I’m safe
But in the meantime, what’s actually happening:
I keep control – my team don’t learn – their confidence drops – they feel disempowered and like they add little value – they disengage and turn off their brains – the work standard and ideas generated drop – so you take more control to counter this – which feeds the ever-decreasing spiral….
So instead focus your control on controlling the development and progress of your team. Become obsessed by the satisfaction of seeing them take another step towards being empowered, confident and capable individuals. Be the leader who coaches, facilitates and mentors. Be the leader of the team that everyone wants to work in because they know they’ll be given clarity of purpose, and space, and care for their development.
All the while holding the image of the place you’re heading to – because this way of leading is playing the long game. Anyone can take control and get short-term wins. It’s the truly successful who see how things could be and who behave consistently in a way that they know is going to get them there.
In the words of David Marquet – drop the authority to the level of information. If you never do, there’ll always be something to solve for someone somewhere and you’ll never be able to go home and eat dinner.
And if the thought of working like this doesn’t light your fire you have two choices –
- don’t be a leader, or
- be a leader who accepts mediocre as the best performance you’ll get from your team.