Leadership Barometer 47 More Delegation

April 24, 2020

I work with leaders on a regular basis, and most of them wish they were better at delegating. I have yet to meet a person who believes delegating is a bad thing to do.

Granted, it is possible overdo the technique and get into trouble, just as one can overdo any good thing, but for most of us, we would be far more effective if we did more delegation rather than less.

The reason for not delegating stems from each person’s desire to have things done well. We want things to be done the way we would do them, and are afraid that some other person will not live up to the standards we have for ourselves.

The excuse often given is “it is much easier to just do it myself than to teach the other person to understand how I want it done and make sure he does it that way.” That thinking sounds like just being honest, but it is not a helpful way to think.

The fear is not just about getting the work done the “right” way. It is also a sociological fear that if we need to have the work redone, then we have made an enemy or at least have to do some coaching to calm the other person down.

The dread of having to deal with the consequences of a failed attempt and the rework involved is very real and makes us feel like the time is better spent just doing the job ourselves. That approach will also prevent the time pressure if there is an urgency to the task.

You cannot use the “Law of Leverage” to multiply your good influence in the world until you let go of the idea of perfection and grab onto the concept of “excellence by influence.”

By trusting other people to figure out the best way to do something and leaving them alone to do it “their way,” you unleash the power of creative thinking and initiative in other people. They will often surprise you by delivering work and solutions that are far better and arrive sooner than you would have done yourself.

To have subordinates perform as you wish, it is first important to ensure you have defined the desired outcome. Make sure they can recite the objective back to you before they go off to accomplish the task.

This is also a great time to verify they have the resources needed to accomplish the work. Many managers fail to provide the time, money, or other resources that will be needed to do the job and then become frustrated when an employee tries to improvise a sub-optimal solution.

A typical problem is that managers have a preconceived idea of what the ideal solution will resemble. When we see the result of the work done by a creative and turned-on individual, it just does not look like the solution we envisioned, so the “not invented here” syndrome takes over, and we send signals that the work is not good enough.

It is hard to admit that the solution we are presented with is, in many cases, a superior one. Here are some ideas that can help you lower this rejection reaction and be more accepting of the solutions others present.

1. Does it do the job?

In every task there are countless ways to achieve a result that actually does the job intended. When you see the work of another person, try to imagine that the solution you see is one of hundreds of alternatives, including the one you had in mind.

2. Did it help the other person grow?

Our job as managers and leaders is not only to get everything done according to some standard. Our primary purpose is to help people grow into their powerful best, which means putting higher value on what the person is learning than on the particular solution to a specific task. Even if the solution turns out to be flawed, it still is a success in terms of helping the person learn and grow.

3. Are you making a mountain out of a molehill?

We often get so intense about how things are being perceived by our own superiors that we lose sight of the bigger picture. By showing high trust and enabling more people to leverage their skills, you are going to be perceived very well, even if there is an occasional slip.

4. Who is the judge for which is the best solution?

Clearly if you have a preconceived idea of what the solution looks like, you are not in a position to be objective. You are already biased in the direction of your vision.

5. What kind of culture do you want?

To have an engaged group, you need to empower people by giving them tasks and trusting them to use their initiative and creativity to find their own solutions. If you want everything done “your way,” you will end up getting what most organizations typically do, which is roughly 30% of the discretionary effort that is available in the workforce. You end up with compliance rather than excellence.

6. What are you really risking?

When you stop and think about it, the risks involved are really quite small. Even if something does not work out, it will be of little consequence in a week or two. The risk is even lower if people are becoming more engaged in the work and more skilled over time through trial and error.

7. What is the best for you?

Realizing that you have a choice to micromanage or not and choosing to be an empowering rather than stifling manager lets you sleep a lot better at night. That is a huge advantage and well worth having to endure a serviceable solution that is not exactly what you had in mind.

The benefits of good delegation are well documented. Few people would vote for less delegation by any manager, so why not learn to set good objectives and trust people to come up with good solutions? You will find it is not as hard as you imagine, and your overall performance will go up dramatically as you leverage resources better.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations


Leadership Barometer 7 Connecting With People

July 16, 2019

One measure of the greatness of any leader is how well he or she connects with people at all levels.

Some leaders are great at managing relationships upward but lousy at engaging the people who work for them.

This measure is easy to use and is truly indicative of excellence.

Connects Well with People

A good way to evaluate the quality of a leader is to watch the way he or she connects with people both upward and downward. Great leaders are known for being real rather than phony. People describe the great ones as being “a nice person” or “approachable” or “like a friend.”

The idea is the leader does not act aloof and talk down to people. There is no pedestal separating the leader from people in the organization.

There are numerous ways a leader can demonstrate the genuine connection with people. For example, John Chambers, longtime CEO of Cisco worked from a 12X12 foot cubicle and answered his own phone. There was no executive washroom and no corporate plane. He was a master of connecting with people as he roamed the halls of Cisco passing out candy and ice cream.

A more current example is Rich Sheridan of Menlo Innovations. Rich’s latest book “Chief Joy Officer” gives chapter and verse of a culture where the CEO is truly connected to everyone in the organization. If you have not read his incredible story and the impact he is having, pick up a copy of his book.

Other leaders dress more like the workers in jeans. I know one CEO who is more comfortable in a tiedye t-shirt than a suit and tie.

Probably the most helpful way to be connected to people is to walk the deck often. There is a telltale sign that shows whether you are getting enough face time with people.

When you approach a group of workers on the shop or office floor, watch their body language. If they stiffen up and change their posture, you know that your visit is too much of a special event. If the group continues with the same body language, but just welcomes you into the conversation, then you are doing enough walking of the deck.

They used to call this habit MBWA – short for Management By Walking Around. It is, by far, the most enjoyable and easiest way to stay connected with people. I used to love walking up to an employee and asking “What’s the latest rumor.” The neat part is that the employee would tell me.

Likewise, the great leader knows how to stay connected with the people higher in the organization. In this case MBWA does not work too well because there is no real “shop floor” for upper management. Being accessible helps, so know the layout and drop by on occasion to check in, but do not be a pest – there is a fine line.

One suggestion is to experiment with the preferred modes of communication of your superiors. For example I can recall the best way to keep in touch with one of my managers was through voice mail. Another superior would rarely reply to voice mail or e-mail, so I would make sure to stop by to see her in person.

One tip that was helpful to me was to arrive very early in the morning – before any of the upper levels were present. Most executives arrive at work before the general population to prepare for the day and get some quiet work done before the masses arrive.

I would always be in my office working when my manager arrived. There were many occasions when something had to be done to help the manager very early in the morning. Since I was the only one around, I had the opportunity to do little favors for my superior to help her out. Over time, that practice does a lot to enhance trust.

Beating your superior to work consistently demonstrates a kind of dedication. Your manager has no way of knowing when you arrived. You could have gotten there just 5 minutes before her or already been hard at work for an hour.

I always enjoyed having my car make the first set of tracks in the snow of the parking lot. Over time, that built up a helpful reputation for me that paid off in terms of demonstrated dedication.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


How to Build Trust if Your Boss Doesn’t

January 25, 2014

AccountableIn my work with leaders who are trying to build higher trust within their organizations, I often hear mid-managers say, “I really want to build trust, but my boss seems intent on doing things that destroy trust almost daily. How can I be more effective at building trust in my arena when the environment I am working in doesn’t support it?”

This is an interesting conundrum, and yet it is not a hopeless situation. Here are six tips that can help:
1. Recognize you are not alone. Nearly every company today is under extreme pressure, reorganizations and other unpopular actions are common.

There are ways to build and maintain trust, even in draconian times, but the leaders need to be highly skilled and transparent.

Unfortunately, most leaders shoot themselves in the foot when trying to manage in difficult times. During the struggle, they do lasting damage rather than build trust.
If your boss is destroying trust with other people in the organization, chances are the bond of trust between you and your boss needs some work as well.

Let the boss know you are concerned with the level of trust within your own area and ask for his or her assistance in improving the situation. Open up the dialog about trust often, but do so using yourself as the example of the leader trying to improve trust.

This way you get your boss starting to verbalize the things that build higher trust as he or she tries to be a coach for you. This gives you the opportunity to ask some Socratic Questions about how broader application of the ideas might be helpful to the entire organization.

2. Realize that usually you cannot control what goes on at levels above you. My favorite quote for this is “Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.” The best you can do is point out that approaches do exist that can produce a better result.

Suggesting your leader get some outside help and learn how to manage the most difficult situations in ways that do not destroy trust will likely backfire.

Most managers with low Emotional Intelligence have a huge blind spot where they simply do not see that they have a problem.
One suggestion is to request that you and some of your peers go to, or bring in, a leadership trust seminar and request the boss come along as a kind of “coach” for the group.

Another idea is to start a book review lunch club where your peers and the boss can meet once a week to discuss favorite leadership books.
It helps if the boss gets to nominate the first couple books for review. The idea is to get the top leader to engage in dialog on topics of leadership and trust as a participant of a group learning process.

If the boss is especially narcissistic, it is helpful to have an outside facilitator help with the interaction.

The key point here is to not target the boss as the person who needs to be “fixed,” rather view the process as growth for everyone. It will promote dialog and better understanding within the team.

3. Avoid whining about the unfair world above you, because that does not help the people below you feel better (it really just reduces your own credibility), and it annoys your superiors as well. When you make a mistake, admit it and make corrections the best you can.

4. Operate a high trust operation in the environment that you influence. That means being as transparent as possible and reinforcing people when they bring up frustrations or apparent inconsistencies.

This can be tricky because the lack of transparency often takes the form of a gag rule from on high. You may not be able to control transparency as much as you would like.

One idea is to respectfully challenge a gag rule by playing out the scenario with alternate outcomes.

The discussion might sound like this, “I understand the need for secrecy here due to the potential risks, but is it really better to keep mum now and have to finesse the situation in two weeks, or would we be better served being open now even though the news is difficult to hear?”

My observation is that most people respond to difficult news with maturity if they are given information and treated like adults.

If your desire to be more transparent is overruled by the boss, you might ask him or her to tell you the words to use down the line when people ask why they were kept in the dark.

Another tactic is to ask how the boss intends to address the inevitable rumors that will spring up if there is a gag rule.

Keep in mind there are three questions every employee asks of others before trusting them: 1) Are you competent? 2) Do you have integrity? 3) Do you care about me?

5. Lead by example. Even though you are operating in an environment that is not ideal, you can still do a good job of building trust. It may be tricky, but it can be done.

You will be demonstrating that it can be accomplished, which is an effective means to have upper management see and appreciate the benefits of high trust. Tell the boss how you are handling the situation, because that is being transparent with the boss.

6. Be patient and keep smiling; a positive attitude is infectious. Many cultures these days are basically down and morose.

Groups that enjoy high trust are usually upbeat and positive. That is a much better environment to inspire the motivation of everyone in your group.

If your boss is not good at leading in a way that enables trust throughout the organization, you can still help get the benefits of trust if you approach the situation correctly using the six tips above. In doing so, you will be leading from below and helping your organization rise to much higher productivity and employee satisfaction.