Over the years of coaching I have found it startling how many times I work with senior leaders who have been hired to bring new thinking and challenge to a mature business, or an entrepreneurial spirit, and then when they have them in place have beaten them into submission and aligning to “the way we do things around here”.
What a shame, a tragedy and a missed opportunity to stretch that company’s thinking and inspire a fresh approach to the challenges of a new world. If this is you, it’s time to remind your company of why they hired you… in case they have forgotten, which is often the case.
As leaders we must take the responsibility for recruiting someone we believe will add value and then not allowing that value to be realised. Yes, there may be very good contextual influences over what we would like to do, but we probably knew most of these at the time of hiring them. So possibly you can’t give them carte blanch to do what they dream of doing, but that moment we interviewed them and it made us smile to think about how great it would be to have them on-board was not just about the quality of their ideas, it was about their passion and energy and focus. These are qualities we can still invite and welcome rather then total compliance to an established world.
The challenge then becomes even deeper. We feel that individuals within our teams are not doing things the way we would do them or the “establishment” would expect. We jump in and take over. We do the job for them or we restrict the parameters of their activity to such an extent they become merely an extension of ourselves and the traditions we have founded. Maybe they are not completely right. But maybe they are not completely wrong.
I love the statement from Ralph Nader (A US consumer champion) who said: “The first premise of leadership is to create more leaders rather than more followers”. Many leaders can get people to follow their instructions and guidance (I guess we would call that management), but very few can build their “direct report” leadership team to be the best leadership team there has ever been within their area of expertise.
The most impactful and transformational leaders in the world do not do the job of their direct reporting team for them, they focus on helping them collectively and individually become the very best that they can be. They coach. They encourage. They help them think in the way that is needed to be of strategic value, rather than emphasise their lower position in the pecking order.
Leaders, who do the job of their team for them lack vision, energy and passion because they spend their days picking up minute pieces of a puzzle they should be viewing from a distance to make sure the correct right picture is being created.
Are we clear about what we need to achieve? How can I help you succeed? These should be the mantra of every leader who wants to multiply performance, realise new potential or even transform the career of those they lead. Will there be those who let you down? Of course. But I believe there will be far less than you imagine. In fact, the consequences would be no more significant than those of doing the job for them and you not performing to your potential because your focus on creating and completing that puzzle is wrong. Keep the full picture in your view and help them to see how the pieces come together.
Does it take courage? Yes of course, but doesn’t anything of significant value?
So two concluding thoughts for us to consider:
First – for those in your team that you were involved in hiring – why did you? Are you allowing them to achieve your, and their, dream? If you didn’t hire them, then maybe whoever did saw some trait or perspective they felt would add value. So go and find it. If it’s no longer relevant, then be honest and help them in their current role or even to find something where their value is relevant and valued again.
Second – if you are stepping in to do the job of your team, then what impact is it having on your role in leading significant success and achieving your vision? Challenge yourself and challenge them. People thrive in a world of high challenge as long as you are willing to give them the support they need to succeed. That doesn’t mean doing the job for them, but it does mean pursuing the question “How can I help you become the very best ______________ there has ever been?”
Leadership is not about how many actions you deliver (especially when it’s your team that should be doing them). It’s about how many lives you change for the better. It’s the legacy you leave not the actions attributable to you.