My aptitude in organizational leadership can be captured in a brief conversation I recently had with a friend and former work associate. He had been recently tasked with reading a book entitled Fierce Conversations and had become more curious about management and leadership. I have not at the time of writing this, read the book yet, but I intend to before the year's end. Our dialogue on the topic was as follows:
Empowering Leadership & Even Leaders
Friend: So apparently The purpose of a leader is not to know the answer.
Me: That is true.
Friend: I understand that... now.
Me: Mmhm - A leader sets the course and empowers the team to find answers.
Friend: Oh, you've read the book?
Me: Not this particular one.
Friend: Most of us think our leaders should know everything. It's a hard perception to break. Most employees - if they see someone promoted to a position of leadership - expect that person to know everything. The worst is we get stuck with managers who think they know it all but are always 5 steps behind what I'm realizing today!
Me: I Had a talk with Chris (a mutual friend) about this couple of weeks back. Reminded him that the real genius is in understanding his team's strengths and limitations and being able to guide people to his conclusion without stomping his feet and demanding they see what he sees.
Friend: That! How do I work on that!?
Me: Well - I do the same exercise with everyone regardless of the organizational structure. It typically involves asking questions until they come to a similar or superior conclusion to the one I already arrived at. For instance, the marketing VP recently shut down the new guy when he suggested a well-reasoned rebrand for a struggling website.
I didn't particularly know why, so in our morning stand-up meeting, I asked the VP if she was willing to focus group brand names? When she said no, I asked what she liked about the competition, and what she felt they did well. After some feedback, I asked her if she could snap her fingers and remake the site what would she include. She said she didn’t know. I asked if she knew of a good way to find out what the target audience would like to see. She was like - "I guess you’re right we should focus group it."
Guess what brand the group settled on...
Friend: So she is the type of boss to just shoot the team down for no reason?
Me: Not at all. In this case, the VP was aware of the issue but didn’t feel connected to the solution. She needed to understand the thought process and feel her way through it. I find that's true for bosses, and employees alike. Help them feel empowered to find answers. Show them where their thought process is valuable. If they are not simply a micromanager or a bad actor you can always steer them to discovering some pretty awesome and collaborative solutions.
Friend: Can you take my bosses job? :p
Set the Goals, Be the Culture, Trust the Team
I've heard it said that "culture eats strategy for breakfast," and I believe it wholeheartedly. As an organizational leader, it's always my goal to understand the stakeholders, assess the challenges, and create tools to help my resources overcome those challenges.
Often that means rolling up my sleeves and working with a team member to find a solution or putting in the work upfront to make sure the team has easy access to the data and project files they need to produce their own work.
Most often that means hosting quick daily stand-ups to gauge project blockers, hear new ideas, address concerns, and set or reset SMART goals for the team. It always involves me reminding someone that they are of value and giving them the trust, bandwidth, and autonomy to come up with a good solution to their departmental or role-specific challenges.
My number one rule is "Don't play the blame game."
It is far more efficient to set a culture where employees feel safe explaining their mistakes and how they plan to fix them than it is to spend hours or even minutes complaining publicly about poor performance or a momentary failure of some system or workflow. Allow the team the bandwidth to course correct, and provide them with advice and tool to steer them in a winning direction. Then... get out of the way.
If you're a data-driven leader, you will collect your work samples, asses areas of improvement, and set new or additional goals that the team can achieve in concert with your overall success plan. Display the team metrics visually so everyone knows how the team is progressing, and remind people to suggest fixes instead of complaining about issues. Be the culture and trust the team.