Follow Up and Keep The Eye
How can we do it, why is it important and what role does the leader now play?
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” (Steve Jobs)
Imagine teams performing to exactingly high standards and informing you of the decisions they’ve made? Never having to explain things in meticulous detail again and again, teams and individuals just ‘get it`!!! Even new employees looking to problem solve and improve efficiency. Everyone with a sense of belonging and purpose, engaged and willing to go the extra mile. Is this the Culture you want to create within your organisation? If so, how can we achieve this phenomenon? The answer could be doing less and actually increasing productivity more.
As a leader we often discuss “leading by example” and proving a strong work ethic for others to follow. However, being involved too much can hamper employee’s commitment as they become reliant on your knowledge and wait for direction.
“Following up and keeping an eye” is all about empowerment, a learning process where thought, logic and common-sense are encouraged to flourish. Many leaders struggle with this concept and often feel their position is under threat, possibly by younger more innovative employees, but this need not be the case.
In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for autonomy has accelerated as WFH (Working From Home) becomes common place. The opportunity for leaders to personally interact with employees and physically observe practices or keep a watchful eye has often diminished, so what should leaders do now? How are leaders keeping an eye, and how has the dynamic changed? The need to focus outside of the team is still needed, right?
Leading multiple teams, often geographically, separated for long periods of time meant that robust procedures had to be implemented. Good communication links established and weekly emails with a round-up of events would have structure, so not to miss detail required. Holding virtual meetings allowed for body language and to gauge morale. The Team Leaders were competent, I often thought how I would have cherished the opportunity to Lead without anyone micro-managing, and how they could prove themselves worthy of so much more, if they keep on the right-track! One day somebody would have to take over my role, maybe this newfound freedom is a good test!!!
To fully understand your role as a Leader whilst following up and keeping an eye, I have devised a 3-step reminder as a guide:
Develop others – sow the seeds – then let them grow!
We have all seen overprotective parents and although good intent it makes the child over dependent. Difficulties then arise when parents cannot support offspring any longer, with children then discovering poor judgement and decision-making skills in adulthood. This type of example is not acceptable for the growth and maturity of our children, so why does it occur in the work place?
Mainly because ‘we` as leaders are not comfortable delegating work, or sharing knowledge freely. Why? Because we have a misguided belief that we as leaders should know more than employees (see our previous blog on Leading Different Personalities), when in fact by imparting our knowledge early we develop future leaders who have a wealth of experience and knowledge beyond their years.
Being comfortable with oneself as a leader and trusting my own judgement it enabled me to empower others by delegating tasks, this doesn’t mean abandonment, clear vision with parameters and resources allocated accordingly (see blog Mission Command). Building up respect and mutual trust plays dividends by allowing employees to tap into your knowledge bank. I knew past skills may now be outdated and surpassed with more modern technologies, so by probing questions and allowing employees to demonstrate new practices I remained current. Being able to brief internally or externally on the present but more importantly future gaps in workforce, skillsets and leading-edge technology I remained an asset. Maybe this was my role as the Leader!
Do not tell people what to do – Teach employees how to think – Plan to Failure (Stand Up Straight, Paul Nanson)
If your organisation accepts a “one-size-fits-all” approach to learning, it will quickly descend into a box ticking exercise, with little gained. For example: on a questionnaire do employees ever explain their correct answers? Maybe it’s a lucky guess! Critical thinking should be part of the program, allow employees to express themselves, conduct brainstorming sessions, use proven methodologies from reputable sources, analyse both good and decisions and the reasons why it worked or failed, as not to repeat the same error.
Role model your own critical thinking, ask them, ‘what if ‘something goes wrong or X, Y and Z happens? Tease information out if required, Who, What, Where, When, Why and How? This should be done at all levels and it will quickly resonate throughout the organisation. Even the driver, once questioned a few times, would never just rely on SATNAV alone, always carrying a road map and having an understanding of the route prior to a journey, with a time appreciation carried out to ensure the Leadership Team arrived on schedule. This may seem extreme but critical thinking and planning to failure, so that if the worst happens there is a plan in place, with the majority of the decision-making process having been done. It will negate making hasty ill-informed decisions often under pressure of time, who wants that responsibility? With all employees thinking for themselves, time to focus on the bigger picture and keep the eye on the ball!
“If everyone is thinking alike, then nobody is thinking.” (Benjamin Franklin)
Know the signs if your eye is still on the ball – Don’t get lost in the reeds – Look to the horizon!
Employees behaving anxiously, is there undercurrent of catastrophising, like the world will end? This is often magnifying a problem to the extreme and using your organic emotional intelligence should be aware of individuals who need psychological safety, a reassurance that things aren’t as bad. This along with the denial that even the slightest problem has occurred should set alarm bells ringing!!! So, there has been no, “Boss, there may be a problem…” is that normal? If not, then get some answers and find the truth!
As a Leader there will be times you will have to rally the motivation of the Team. I found briefing the Team collectively when things are going wrong cleared the air and gave opportunity to re-evaluate the situation. If the vision remains, maybe the objectives need to be reviewed. Also, remember in a high-performing Team each employee feels obligated to perform and contribute, this self-induced pressure can send stress levels soaring, remain empathetic. Look to the positives and maintain the vision, success is in your grasp, seize it with both hands!!!
Develop others and share your knowledge as others once did with you.
Sometimes employees make mistakes: DO NOT be that over-protective parent.
Promote critical thinking and do not become a slave to processes, these are soon outdated and can’t be justified as solutions.
Know the signs of keeping your eye on the ball and warning signals if the situation deteriorates.
By empowering others, you will quickly discover future leaders, making succession planning easier, undoubtedly leaving a successful legacy that will continue far beyond your tenure.