11 February 2013

Mentoring Leaders – No-One is Indispensable

Part of the role of a leader/manager is to grow future leaders. As we nurture teams, as we shift from managing the work to managing the workplace, as we create an environment where people can contribute to their potential, it creates fertile soil for growth and development.

Some might say, ‘Why grow new leaders? Doesn’t that put my job at risk? What if someone becomes as good as me?

One of the most important roles of leadership is to become redundant. A leader who’s indispensable is a threat to their organisation. Life is full of uncertainty, we never know when something will happen to us, and if we’re the only one who can do a job, we put our organisation at risk. One of the first things a good leader should do is begin to groom a successor.

To become powerful, we must give power away.

Some managers seem to believe that to ‘give power’ means ‘let the team loose’ on a project, and that if they’ve passed the task over, they have to take the consequences of the team’s efforts. Naturally enough, that’s a scary thought for a responsible leader! What if they get it wrong! If a group hasn’t had enough training, direction and experience, or they haven’t grasped a solid overview of other strategic issues facing the company, of course they’ll make decisions based on the limited data they’ve been given. And then they’re more than likely to produce flawed results. The outcome can only be frustration on all parts. Instead, team development is a dynamic evolutionary process in which all parties are involved.

Four steps to effective development of a team

Step 1: Educate

Although the manager makes decisions and directs their team’s activities, they explain issues to them; they’ll tell them about the decisions they made, and why they made those choices.

A surprising number of managers make decisions and don’t share the thinking – instead they share just enough to get the outcome. When you tell people what’s going on, they’re being prepared for higher-level involvement; they’re learning by osmosis, even when they don’t realise it.

Step 2: Ask for input

The manager asks the team for suggestions, applies their suggestions where possible, and keeps the team informed at all stages. If their recommendations can’t be applied, they’re told why.

Step 3: Involve fully

Discuss and work together collaboratively. The manager and well-informed team discuss all aspects of the situation, in full, and decisions are made collectively.

A well-run voluntary organisation, based on sound democratic principles, generally works like this. Consensus on key issues is gained before the group acts. They share responsibility, accountability and risk taking.

Step 4: Transfer responsibility

The leader/manager delegates the decision-making to the team, or individuals within the team, who can then operate autonomously. They tell the manager what they’ve done, as relevant, and take full responsibility for the outcomes.

If a leader doesn’t understand these steps, or hasn’t communicated the level of responsibility they’ve given to a team, they lay themselves wide open for frustration and dis-empowerment of their people.

Case Study – When it went wrong!

Abby was the new Chair of her local Parent/Teacher association. She’d seen the previous Chair run himself into the ground because of poor delegation skills, so decided to actively involve as many of her executive committee as possible. Sub-committees were established for all the core tasks, a leader was appointed for each sub-committee, and they were encouraged to seek assistants from the parents who weren’t on the elected team. Abby felt that this would be a good way to involve more of the less active parents in the running of the school affairs, and her team enthusiastically supported the idea.

Brendan, one of the long-standing members, took on responsibility for fund-raising. He gathered around him a small sub-committee just as Abby had suggested, and started running his own monthly meetings. All manner of complex and time-consuming money-making suggestions flowed forth to the main executive – too many for them to handle. Because Brendan’s focus went into his own area of interest – the fund-raising – he didn’t always get to the main meetings. Therefore he didn’t fully understand that the executive had inherited a number of serious issues, including a disciplinary matter with one of the school staff. To the rest of the executives, and to Abby, major fund-raising events, although important, didn’t hit the top of their radar screen right then.

One day, a few months into her term, Abby was surprised to receive a very curt request from Brendan to attend one of his sub-committee meetings. To her surprise she found that he and his team felt unsupported, unheard, unappreciated and frustrated.

As well as Brendan’s low awareness of the other issues the executive were dealing with, a couple of other communication factors muddied the waters.

· He didn’t send his reports through until the night before the main executive meetings, which were always held in the morning. This meant that Abby had no time to consider the recommendations, or circulate them to the rest of the executive, until after their meeting.

  • Neither he nor Abby talked together very much; because they were both busy their main dialogue was by email.

Had she known more about the process of team development, she would have realized she wanted them to work at a Step 2 level. However, they interpreted their mandate as being somewhere between Steps 3 and 4. Both sides were responsible for communication breakdowns, neither understood the development cycle, and they had to work three times as hard to repair the situation.

And one last point about well-developed teams – they’re more productive. An employee who doesn’t feel very important won’t worry about the little time wasters that cuddle in for comfort. However, if they feel that they ‘own’ their job they’ll be much harder on their own time inefficiencies. Given the opportunity to take responsibility, they’ll work to their maximum instead of working to rule.





Are your days too short, workload too large and work-life balance a pipe dream?

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