Effective leadership is all about people, not process. It’s a fact of business life that you won’t get very far until you learn to get things done though other people. But so often I hear phrases like
“If I don’t do it, it won’t get done right”
“It’s faster to just do it myself”
“How can I find anyone as committed as I am?”
“It has to be done just right”
I know a genius software engineer who could figure out almost anything. But when managing a team, he was frustrated with his team and struggled with project deadlines. When they got behind, he said “don’t worry about it. I can work on it tonight – we will catch up.” That’s when it hit me. Not only had he estimated everything as if he was doing it himself, he was expecting his team to be his “clones” and to do everything the way he would do it. And to make matters worse, instead of leading his team, he spent his time “making up the difference”.
“It’s my responsibility”
I know a talented manager at a non-profit foundation. She was buried under so much work she struggled to get home to her husband in the evenings. She didn’t trust her staff so she spent so much time looking over their shoulder and changing their work that she wasn’t able to start her own work until late in the evening.
“But it’s my baby”
Founding a startup is exhilarating, but also a huge learning curve. As you add more people to your team, you envision getting more done than ever. But the reality is – now you have to manage people. If you can’t trust anyone but yourself, you won’t be able to grow. Eventually children have to leave the caring arms of their parents, into the world, to be influenced and taught by others. It is the same with ideas. In order for them to grow and be realized, sometimes they have to be entrusted to others.
Getting things done through others is a critical skill for achieving your goals. But how can you be sure that others can do what you need to be done? This is a core competency of leadership. Building a winning team comes down to three essential elements
- A team of good people
- A shared vision of what the team can build
- Trust in the team and in the vision
You can’t know everything, you can’t do everything. Find a team of people who bring new ideas and skills to enhance your own. Respect their experience and knowledge as you would your own, and give them the freedom to show you what they can do. Respect their ideas as you would your own.
Share your vision. Don’t focus on how to do things – instead make sure that the entire team is united on the goal of the effort. A lot of management writing focuses on motivating your team. I don’t believe that anyone can motivate someone else. I believe that we can only motivate ourselves. I do believe, however, that we can inspire others. As you build your team, inspire them with your vision of the future. Show them the purpose of the team, and each of their roles in fulfilling that purpose. Let them tell you how they can best achieve the goals you’ve set for them. Let them motivate themselves to do great work.
Trust your team. You’ve got good people, who want to do good work. Let them do it.
So what do you do instead? Focus on the “what” instead of the “how”. Maintain and grow the vision. Set the standards for the team, but relinquish control how they meet them. Evaluate team members on the quality of their output, not on the details of their method. Lead not by ordering everyone around, but by clearing the path of obstacles.
Make no mistake, this is a hard thing to learn. It takes practice, and it’s often a leap of faith – or at least a calculated risk. I know of several brilliant people who are unable to effectively delegate to others, and as such are unable to manage teams. There is nothing wrong with being an individual contributor and doing great work yourself. But if your goals are to manage project teams, or to grow your business beyond yourself, you are going to have to learn to lead effectively.
Develop a team environment where people are able to take risks, make mistakes, and think out of the box (at least out of “your” box!). Let go of perfectionism. Focus instead on progress toward the goal. Publicly praise and give credit to the team for achievements. Lastly, become comfortable with accountability rather than responsibility. You are accountable for the work of your team, but your team members are responsible for their own actions. Lead by expecting the best from your team, and giving them the freedom of action to give it to you.
If you want it done right, DON’T do it yourself.