If you are in a leadership position you may feel like you need to be constantly in charge. You may feel like if you stop “leading” even for a second it may be taken as a sign of weakness, you may lose the respect of others, you may lose control. Depending on the culture (both national and corporate) there are certain expectations. In a culture that prefers masculine traits, extroverted behavior and demonstration of power you need to be constantly visible and constantly in charge. That is how you demonstrate leadership and that is the expectation. However, is it really the right way how to lead?
Why to step aside
If you are constantly in charge and the only person from the team who is constantly visible you are inviting a disaster. Your team will be hidden behind you with some negative consequences coming down the road. When you don’t give the team visibility they will never grow, they will never get a chance to step up and they won’t be able to get credit for their work. You may believe that you are shielding the team from undue pressure (and yes, it is needed from time to time) but as any parent know if you want your child grow you need to step aside and provide opportunities.
Leader for every situation
When you are in a leadership and/or management position you should always ask yourself couple of basic questions to decide how much you need to be involved.
- What value my leadership brings in this particular situation? – if you are not bringing anything then you may consider letting someone else who brings a unique value to step in
- Am I the only one capable of leading this initiative? – if not, you may use it as a growth opportunity for someone else
- Am I passionate about this initiative or are there others more enthusiastic about it? – if there is someone on the team who is very passionate about the initiative chances are he or she will do a better job than you
- What would the team get if I just let someone else to lead? – would they learn? Grow? Get visibility? Get credit?
- What are the chances of success of this initiative? – if the chances are slim you should probably stay in charge rather than set someone else for failure, but if the success is guaranteed why not let others shine
If you come to a conclusion that you are not really required to spearhead the initiative then just get out of the way and let others lead. This is what I would call “the find the right leader” management style. Anyone in the team can be a leader if given the right opportunity.
Let me give you an example. I’m leading and managing teams for years and often I step aside and let others lead and take ownership of various initiatives. I’m not someone you could call a party animal. I understand that various social events are important to build a good team spirit but I’m not passionate about it, I’m not particularly good at organizing it and I don’t even think I would be able to do a good job as I just “don’t get it”. As a leader it is my responsibility to build the team, to do it effectively and by utilizing other resources at my disposal. I have always found someone on the team who just loves to party, who loves to get involved in organizing social events and who will do it will all the passion and dedication. This person is a true leader and others will accept him and follow his leadership when it comes to social gatherings. I’m more than happy to step aside and let this person to take the lead.
When to assert yourself?
The same goes in both directions. If you are part of a bigger company you may step up into a leadership role that is bigger than just your team and that is often informal. You may lead a global initiative to improve on-boarding of new employees, or you may drive the effort across various departments to keep the office clean. These are situations where there is no clear owner or where the owner has decided to step aside and let you lead it. Why? Most likely you have something that drives you. You have a passion for that particular work or initiative and others recognize it. Because they see that this is something important to you and they see your enthusiasm and dedication they will allow themselves to be led by you even when there is no direct or indirect organizational link.
As an example I can talk about my passion for helping other people around me to grow. Over the course of my career I have often volunteered to lead or at least participate in various initiatives focused on training and developing people. Sometimes I would just volunteer to participate, develop some material, be an advocate, test run some program, volunteer myself and my team to be guinea-pigs. Sometimes, when there was no clear owner I would just push the people development and mentoring initiatives because I felt it is needed and I felt that I’m the only one who cares enough to get it done. In both types of situations it was a very natural thing for me to do. I didn’t need too much time to think about it, I didn’t need permissions of anyone and I usually got understanding and support of others once I got involved. Why? People around me saw that this is something I’m passionate about and didn’t question why should they listen or follow my lead.
Twitter type summary: “You don’t need to be constantly in charge. Just find the right situation to put other passionate people in the lead.”
What are your thoughts? When is it better to get out of the way of your team? Are there situations when you just step aside and let others lead?