If you’ve not read Stephan’s writings then welcome. For 21st century leaders, the over dependence on managers to make decisions is a bottleneck to progress. Though it may keep change resistant managers happy, it leaves many dissatisfied. Stephan offers up some insights to move away from the staleness inherent in inflated importance. This is part one of two.
If Your People are not Thinking, You are Failing as a Leader
Meet Gary. He is the leader of a small organization and a very “hands on” guy. He makes a point of knowing about every single detail in the organization and gets involved in the detail 90% of the time. He further prides himself in his problem solving abilities. He is the “go to guy” and likes the fact that people look up to him when they have a problem. He gets involved in all the decision making processes in the organization. In his mind he plays a vital role in solving problems and making important decisions. Gary is convinced he is a very effective leader and his contribution plays an important role in the success of the organization.
Making People Dependant
The sad truth is Gary is not a very effective leader. The way he leads people creates a culture of dependence on him as leader in the organization. This results in people not thinking anymore, becoming lazy to solving problems and losing confidence to make decisions on their own. Through his behaviour Gary stifles the creative genius of the people he leads. By not affording them the opportunity to think and come up with solutions to problems and challenges, he has made them dependant.
Gary is not only doing the organization a disservice, but himself as well. By focussing so much on solving other people’s problems, he neglects development areas in his personal leadership, such as coaching and setting direction. He spends most of his time involved in problem solving mode, stealing time he could have spent more productively.
Successful Leaders Don’t Need to be Present
Successful leadership means your followers don’t need you around for them to be productive. They can operate without you. Once you set the direction, they move on their own accord towards the goal. This means as leader you can spend your time on motivating, coaching and course correcting. A successful leader allows people to make their own decisions. It means they must be able to face problems and come up with solutions, without involving the leader in the process of getting to the solution. To achieve this, people in the organization must think for themselves.
People need to be trained to think. It may sound strange, because doesn’t thinking come rather naturally? The truth is very few people actually learn to think in terms of problem solving. Thinking skills like lateral thinking, thinking out of the box and analytical thinking, unfortunately does not come without training.
As a leader it is your job to help people to develop these skills. At first it will take a lot of effort and will not be easy, especially if your organization has a culture of dependency. It will also take effort from your side, because you will have to trust people to come up with solutions and make the right decisions. You will have to deal with wrong decisions and mistakes as part of the growing pains.
Being available as coach to guide and give advice will become your primary function during this transition. The good news is there is a process you can follow to make it easier to train people in their thinking processes.
The Think Training Process…
- Acknowledgement. Training people to think and come up with solutions to problems does not mean they will not bring problems to you. When this happens, as the leader, you must confirm the problem. You do this by acknowledging the stated issue brought to your attention. Acknowledgement of the problem does not mean you take ownership of the problem. It means you agree there is a problem needing attention.
- Redirecting. The next step is to redirect the problem back to the person or group. This is important to establish ownership of the problem. During the redirecting stage it is important to communicate clearly although you acknowledged the problem, you are not the owner of the problem. The problem is still owned by the person or group raising the issue. It is the responsibility of the problem owner to come up with the solution.
- Guidance. Your role as leader is to guide the person or group through the problem solving process, without getting personally involved. During this stage the leader must lay down definite boundaries for him/herself as well as for the person or group. Guidance means giving direction and advice without getting personally involved in the solution. It is encouraging people to come up with creative solutions to the problem.
- Empowerment. The most important part of training people think for themselves is to empower them to make decisions and take the action necessary to resolve the issue at hand. You can only empower people if you resolve to trust them and communicate this trust clearly to them.
- Review. Lastly, the learning experienced gets entrenched by reviewing the process. The solution and the process of getting to the solution must be reviewed. During the review event learning from the process happens and experience is entrenched, whereby people can handle the next challenge with more confidence.
Making people dependant on you as a leader is not a sign of strong leadership. In fact it exposes insecurity in the leader. Often leaders feel they will become redundant when people can function without their involvement. This cannot be farther from the truth. The purpose of leadership is to help people grow. It is to teach them the value of being able to function independent from the leader, within the framework of the organization.
Connect with Stephan
Stephan De Villiers is Senior Manager at a Human Capital Management Company. His experience spans across various business disciplines, including Training, Project Management, Human Resource Management and Finance. He is part of the Leadership for The International Mentoring Network, South African Chapter, where he is a regular Idea Studio Facilitator and Annual IMN Conference Speaker.
He has a passion for people & leadership development and has been blogging for close to two years. He publishes The Leadership Connexion blog since August 2011. He regularly writes on Personal, Professional and Social Leadership and believes that the highest form of living is using what you have been blessed with, to add value to other people’s lives.
Graphic courtesy of Joseph Fox