Over-Managing Is Sinking Your Leadership
Leaders must have the ability to take charge. But sometimes taking charge means letting go. Letting go of the controls of your team and their efforts. Your inability to do this is killing initiative and morale.
It took me three leadership positions before I finally realized my lack of ability to ‘let it go’ was burning me out as a leader and crippling the potential of my team. My excessive control was sinking my team and sinking me with them.
So what do I suggest leaders should ‘let go’ of? Responsibilities. Decision-making. “Signing off” on every idea. Having a necessarily negative view of mistakes. Finally, not ‘owning it’ after you give it away.
Some of that statement may seem antitheses of other leadership advice you have read, but it’s not. We aren’t talking about not taking responsibility overall, we are talking about giving some of it away and trusting it is in good hands.
We are talking here about maximizing the effectiveness of your team by empowering them.
Here are 5 things that happen to your team.
1. When you don’t delegate
Some leaders have the attitude of “If I want things done right, I have to do them myself.” While this may seem so true, especially after something is not done right, it is an attitude that will eventually destroy you and your team.
The only way this attitude works is if you don’t have a team that works for you, i.e. you aren’t a leader. When you do have a team, you are a leader, and you must delegate responsibilities to them.
The goal as a leader is to train your team so that when you do share responsibilities, they have a high likelihood of meeting them. You as a leader must take a realistic survey of your team’s ability and employ them in accordance with their capabilities.
Then lead in a way that makes them want to take these responsibilities and run with them.
“The inability to delegate is one of the biggest problems I see with managers at all levels.” -Eli Broad (Builder of two fortune 500 companies in different industries)
2. When you micromanage
So you delegated? Great! But that doesn’t mean you nervously need to now be sitting on the shoulders of your employees. To be worrying about the little things. To be chiming in advice on every decision they make. Stop!
I used to have a boss who told me how to word things to a customer. It was the most irritating habit and worst form of micromanagement I have experienced. If I wasn’t capable of transforming ideas into words, then I’d understand where he was coming from, but my brain did have input to my mouth’s output. He just didn’t realize that apparently.
Another boss I had said it best when he said: “You just need to get out of your people’s way.” This is the opposite of micromanagement and his team was capable, self-sufficient, and happy.
Tell them what to do, not how to do it.
“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” -General George S. Patton
3. When you don’t value initiative
So now you’ve delegated and you’ve sufficiently stayed out of their hair. Now what? Someone made a mistake! I knew it. I knew I shouldn’t have loosened the reins. The urge to micromanage after a mistake is made is so strong. Resist it with all your power. If you go back to micromanaging, you’ll kill that budding initiative. And that is the most powerful and dynamic quality your followers can have.
The valuing of decentralized initiative and decision-making is the hallmark of the most effective organizations.
If someone made a mistake acting on their own initiative to improve the team’s efforts, this is a noble mistake. One that should be coached if needed, but the initiative should never be devalued.
“Good Initiative, bad judgment” is a saying commonly used in Marine Corps leadership. It is a great way of saying that you value and appreciate the initiative, but the decision could be improved next time. With this attitude, the employee is not afraid to take chances and think outside the box. They will, they’ll just be dialing in their effectiveness now as well. And they'll still be motivated to follow you.
You must build an environment where initiative is allowed to grow. You can’t create it or delegate it but you can build a garden for it to grow. When it does start to grow, water it with praise.
“Initiative can neither be created nor delegated. It can only spring from the self-determining individual, who decides that the wisdom of others is not always better than his own.” -R. Buckminster Fuller
4. When you mishandle employee’s mistakes
You have enabled the initiative to grow and even flourish. Now some mistakes are being made. That’s OK. That’s the inevitable result of an empowered team.
Analyze the mistake. This is where your judgment comes in.
Was it an “honest” mistake? If so, let it go.
Was it an “honorable mistake” based on having courage and initiative, but lacking some judgment? Coach. Even reward the initiative if appropriate. This is a “fail forward” and teachable moment.
Was it a mistake based on a direct chosen negative action by the employee? (laziness, spite, bad attitude, etc.) Punish, accordingly. Your team won’t respect you if you don’t punish an intentional mistake. Then find out why the employee is like this and help them fix it.
Make sure only mistakes that are made with a bad heart or lazy mind are punished appropriately. Punished in a way to motivate self-corrective action to be taken. In a way that brings the employee lovingly back into the fold if possible, not alienating them. This gets into a whole realm of counseling and leadership not under the purview of this article. The takeaway is: Don’t handle all mistakes in the same way. Some deserve praise, some deserve counseling, and some deserve punishment.
Be consistent in how you reward, punish, or forget mistakes.
Always remember, not all mistakes are bad. Many times they are the required prerequisite for success.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas A. Edison
5. When you avoid taking ownership of your team’s failures
So now your team is empowered. They are making many decisions.
They failed. They’re fault? No. You own this failure.
What? I just gave all this power to other people. How am I responsible? You are still the Captain. They row the boat but you are always responsible for where it goes.
To everyone outside of “your ship”, give all the credit to your team for successes, and take all the blame for failure.
You have to lead in a way to get the ship where you want to go. To let your people know where you intend to go, then empowering them to make it happen. A leader has to know when to change tack when the ship is off course. When to balance rowers so you aren’t rowing in circles. When to let the rowers rest. When to jump in and row yourself.
Your job as a leader is to make them want to get where you want to go and be looking up to you with respect as they row.
“The buck stops here” -Harry S. Truman
When we learn to let the reins loosen as leaders, our team starts to run and eventually hits its stride. It is so difficult to do, especially as a new leader, to let go of control. But learning to do this is critical to your success as a leader.
You can get so much more done and get it done more successfully.
Delegate. Trust. Value Initiative. Respond to mistakes appropriately and consistently.
Then own it all, leader. Except for the wins, your team owns those.
Now go out there and let it go.
Your team will happily start to row in the direction you want to go.