Leadership Move #23: Let Them Lead YOU

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We can pretend otherwise, but being a leader can be very ego-gratifying.

No judgement. It’s just something that naturally results from having the authority to tell people to stop whatever they’re busy working on and work, instead, on whatever YOU want them to work on…and then get to watch as they comply!

Just Because You CAN Doesn’t Mean You SHOULD

Be careful, though, about pushing that ‘because I want you to’ button too hard or too often. It can wear pretty thin, pretty quickly. And when it does, it dramatically increases the likelihood that when you REALLY need someone to comply…they won’t.

That’s why it’s important to remember that it’s good for a leader to NOT call the shots all the time.

That’s why encouraging staff to lead YOU, from time to time, can be a very strong leadership move.

Just Because it SOUNDS Odd Doesn’t Mean it IS

Yes, encouraging your staff to lead YOU may seem a bit obtuse, but it’s really not.

Consider an employee who has an idea for something that’s maybe only marginally interesting, to you, but that person is willing to put in the time and energy to try and bring it to fruition.

What’s your move?

Here’s a hint: It doesn’t really matter if you think the idea is any good or not. What matters is that they want to TRY.

Obviously you must both agree on the project’s scope, timing, funding, and non-monetary resource allocations, but once that’s in place, it’s the employee’s turn to take the lead.

Just Because it DOESN’T Work Doesn’t Mean it DIDN’T Work

Truth is, whether the initiative fails or succeeds, you win!

How? Because if the initiative fails, you get points for letting the person ‘give it a shot’ – and if it succeeds, your organization benefits from an improvement that you would probably would not have focused on. And, either way, you earn the employee’s respect and regard for letting him/her try – which is what we might call a win/win!

And you know what ELSE is nice about win/wins?

They typically provide a very nice ego-boost, alongside, too!

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Leadership Move #22: Don’t Just TRY to Lead; ACTUALLY Lead

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Here’s the thing: You don’t need to prove that you’re in charge.

By virtue of your title and position, you already are.

Said another way: You have a right to lead. And you’ve been given the responsibility to lead. So lead!

Whether you happen to feel confident, or not, in any particular moment is irrelevant – all that matters is what you do, or don’t do, next.

So lead!

Decide what a totally confident and capable leader would do … and go do that.

Will you make some mistakes? Absolutely. Will you be perfect? No. But that’s okay because leadership isn’t really about getting everything right, anyway – it’s about leading others to do their great work in great ways.

Striving for anything less is a major shirking of your responsibilities.

It also does a grave disservice to the people you work with, the company you work for, and yourself, too, by the way.

So remember: You have a RIGHT to lead; you’ve been given the responsibility TO lead; so LEAD!


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Leadership Move #21: Help Others Succeed


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There’s a real paradox in modern leadership – individual achievement is typically what brings us the recognition we need to get promoted into a leadership role, but it is our ability to help others succeed is what ultimately qualifies us to be a leader.

This sometimes means that you have to let others take credit for the good things that you help initiate/achieve.

And, while this may seem unfair at times, if you help enough people achieve enough success, you become known as someone who routinely helps others do good work.

As they say, what goes around comes around …


P.S. Apologies that the image, above, represents two men as opposed to one man and one women – or two women and no men.


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Leadership Move #20: Continue to Actively Learn

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Don’t kind yourself – You can’t succeed if you don’t continue to learn.

Although a lot of success comes from doing what you already know to do, that’s merely table stakes. Necessary, but insufficient.

The ‘Been There Done That’ Mistake

When someone assumes that what worked to solve yesterday’s problems is sufficient for solving today’s problems, they’re truly asking for trouble:

  1. A quick fix, based on “what’s worked in the past,” typically treats only the symptoms of the problem. And symptoms have a tendency to reappear until the underlying problem is actually addressed.
  2. Today’s problems are decidedly complex and subtle, so simply trying to overlay “what’s worked in the past” is not only unimaginative and unproductive, it’s likely also fraught with several unintended consequences which might just make things worse than they already are.
  3. While what you already know might work just fine, it leaves the opportunity of being STELLAR just sitting there for someone ELSE to pick up and run with.

Yesterday’s News is OLD News

Your challenge, then, is to find (and help create) NEW solutions – not just provide the same ol’ same ol’. (Sure, ‘consistency’ matters, but ‘sameness’ can create a slippery slope of a lackluster reputation.)

So in order to meet challenges you face, you need to go further.

  • You need to expand your understanding of the issues at hand and what made them that way
  • You need to be able to recognize and apply relevant insights gleaned from tangential sources
  • You need to creatively brainstorm the possibilities
  • You need to find not just A way, but a BETTER way

“If All You Have is a Hammer, All Your Problems Will Look Like Nails”

There are some very important reasons to keep expanding what you know:

  1. People who are actively learning tend to be in a better mood, demonstrate more of an ability to think on their feet, and generally get more done.
  2. People who are actively learning tend to connect better with those around them – which greatly facilitates teamwork and collaboration.
  3. People who are actively learning naturally encourage others to actively learn, and perform at a higher level, as well

So Where CAN You Learn?

The short answer is EVERYWHERE:

  • friends
  • coworkers
  • staff
  • bosses
  • customers
  • vendors
  • books
  • articles
  • trade journals
  • magazines
  • television
  • podcasts
  • TED Talks
  • radio
  • CDs
  • DVDs
  • audio-books
  • e-books
  • hobbies
  • your company’s training department
  • the Internet
  • continuing ed classes
  • textbooks
  • computer-based training
  • manuals
  • SMEs (subject matter experts)
  • white papers
  • mentors
  • your coach!
  • spending some time just quietly thinking

And this is hardly an exhaustive list.

Expanding Your Toolkit

To become (or continue to be) a more compelling leader, you simply must keep learning.

There’s no shortcut. But it’s not that difficult.

You really just have to get curious about something – and then start wondering about it!

Ready? GO!

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Leadership Move #19: Teach Them to Enjoy the Challenge

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The phone rings: It’s your boss with a killer to-do; one that NO ONE is going to like.

You know it’s a great developmental opportunity for someone, though, so you delegate it. Not surprisingly, the reception is lukewarm – frigid, actually. What do you do?

If it IS a hill to climb, don’t pretend it’s NOT one

Many bosses try to sugar-coat such this type of assignment by making it SEEM like it’s less difficult than it really is. “Oh, it’s not that bad,” they’ll say. “You’ll see.”

Or maybe they try another old favorite: “Would you do me a favor?”

And if all else fails, they just blame their boss. “Oh, you know how he (or she) is. Just do it and be done with it.”

But these are all faulty strategies.

  • First, they each encourage staff to underestimate what’s needed to do a job-well-done, which can be problematic for all sorts of reasons.
  • Second, they make you, their boss, look either disingenuous, at best, or incompetent, at worst – or, quite possibly, BOTH.
  • And third, they actually encourage people to whine and complain whenever there’s some difficult work to be done.

Let it be what it be

So rather than trying to ‘spin’ a challenging assignment, I prefer you make THAT it’s a challenge the whole POINT of the exercise:

“Look, there are some days where we basically get paid for free,” you might say. “We come in, do what we love, go home, and we’re done. No fuss/no muss. But there are other days where we really have to earn our paycheck – each and every penny of it. Today just happens to be one of those days. So get ready to dig in and really enjoy the challenge of the challenge I have for you, today!”

Helping your staff develop the confidence (and competence) to tackle new and more challenging tasks is key to increasing their value-added back to you. And if you review their Lessons Learned after each assignment, you’ll help them see that they are both learning and truly earning their paycheck which, contrary to popular belief, is something that most people are proud to do.

Your thoughts?

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Leadership Move #18: Challenge Them To Connect The Dots

Ever see that mind puzzle called the 9 Dots? You start with 3 rows of 3 dots, and the goal is to connect all 9 dots with 4 straight lines. Oh, and once you start, you can’t lift your pen off of the paper – the ‘end’ of each line must be the ‘start’ of the next.

Here’s the puzzle. Go ahead and give it a try.


(There’s a link to the solution, below, but don’t go there just yet – try to figure it out on your own.)

Knowing and Not-Knowing

The point of the game is simple enough: As Salvador Dali once said, “It is either easy or impossible.”

In other words, until you know HOW to do something (e.g. connect the dots correctly), you don’t.  But once you DO…you absolutely do!

And by virtue of you being in a leadership role, chances are pretty good that you already know how to connect some dots that your staff does not.

Struggling versus Puzzling

Of course that doesn’t mean you should always just give them the answer. No fun in that! (And not much growth and development for them, either.) But, with a few well-placed ‘hints’ you can certainly help them figure things out for themselves sooner.

After all, isn’t making good things happen ‘sooner’, pretty much the whole point of leadership?!

There’s Significant Power in a Good Hint

Sure, the 9 Dots it’s just a silly puzzle, but using it as our metaphor du jour, what would be a good hint that might help someone solve it sooner, rather than later, rather than never? Here are two:

  1. It’s okay if the lines don’t stay ‘within’ the dots.
  2. It’s okay if some of the lines cross each other.

If you couldn’t solve the puzzle before, give it another go. I’ll wait.

The Broader Context

By challenging staff to figure things out (and being there to provide a few hints, when necessary) you’re helping your direct reports – and your department as a whole – to get more done sooner AND helping them all to learn and grow in ways that they might not otherwise.

And that’s a GOOD thing.

Said another way, if you’re NOT helping your direct reports and staff get more done sooner, then you’re probably not challenging them enough.

What ‘Dots’ are ‘Impossible’ for THEM?

So what ‘dots’ don’t they know how to connect?

  • Is it how a new assignment affects the company’s bottom line?
  • Is it how to integrate a project’s goal into the team’s other priorities?
  • Is it how to reduce line-item expenses without jeopardizing essential services?
  • Is it how to have an employee performance discussion in a way that the employee feels respected and cared about?
  • Is it how to ask better follow-up questions the clarify someone’s intent?
  • Is it how to follow-through on assignments that they don’t already know how to complete?
  • Is it how to manage conflict or disagreements more constructively?
  • Is it how to stay motivated even when they feel exhausted?

Take a moment to come up with some hints that might help them connect the dots.

Because once they know, they’ll know! And you’ll have helped them turn the seemingly impossible into something that’s relatively easy!


(Oh, and as promised: The 9 Dots answer.)

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