Leadership is often managing binary sets of expectations that often seem counter-productive to each other. For example, one often finds himself or herself in a position of leadership or influence because they are known for doing one particular thing well but fail because leading means often doing many things well. Another example can be you are approachable and are good at helping people solve problems then finding out that once you are in a place of influence people don’t feel as free to approach you anymore. An essential ingredient in leadership is constantly reinventing yourself to navigate the ever-changing circumstances and expectations in which you find yourself. One of the most common paradoxes is that someone is given more responsibility because they have a high bar of excellence in their work versus the challenge of letting go of some things to properly empower others. Succinctly stated, the temptations to over-manage or micro-manage to get results. This tendency in the short-term can make it look like they are succeeding but is not a winning long-term strategy. So, how does a person help their team get the level of excellence they want without over-managing the situation? Here are a few tips:
- Practice clear expectations over controlling expectations. This is the first pitfall for most; trying to control the outcome and not setting the expectation and letting someone work on it for you. At the beginning of the assignment have a written, clear objective for the work along with any information you would offer on budget, timelines, frequency of communication with you, and other important context. Doing a good job of this on the front end will cut off potential frustrations from having to back up processes or correct later.
- Practice coaching, not managing. If you trust someone with the work then trust him or her with the work. This means not controlling every single outcome and sometimes even letting go of some personal preferences to allow someone else’s workstyle to shine. Think more of how you would coach someone for success in the process over how you would dictate how it should be done. This pays off over the long run because as you coach them then the more you will find you can ultimately give to them.
- Practice open-ended check-ins. As suggested above establish from the beginning how often you want to hear from them on progress. If they are new to the responsibilities you might want to start with a more frequent update and then adjust as they grow. Approach these with the mind-set of asking them how you can help them and what barriers can you help remove for them over simply asking for a progress report. This will help open up communication and can help you discover (and solve) challenges you did not know existed.
- Practice being willing to give the credit away. One of the distinctives of a micro-manager is at heart they are selfish and don’t want to risk someone else getting credit for their work. A good leader knows that it doesn’t reflect poorly on them when someone on their team does well. Be willing to talk up to your supervisors what a great job that person did and be willing to give the credit away. You’ll find when you practice this the credit “karma” tends to also work back to you.
Putting some of these steps into place and being willing to examine yourself and your motivations have the potential to both make you a more inspiring and capable leader with the added bonus of improving the satisfaction and engagement levels of those you are leading. It’s a poor reflection of character when a leader cannot let go to let others shine. Sometimes this will not turn out the way that is expected and when that happens a good leader will walk back through the process to see where things went wrong (most often it is in the initial communication of expectations, this is always an elusive goal to perfect). The return on investing in others, however, always has long-term payoffs for those who are patient enough to work toward it.