Luke Iorio, President & CEO, iPEC
Thomas Paine’s advice to “lead, follow, or get out of the way” was good leadership theory when it was written over 200 years ago; but, if he lived today, Paine would have been more likely to say “Leader, get out of the way.” The concept of a leader making decisions and issuing directives that are blindly followed by staff members is an antiquated one in this era of employee engagement and involvement. Often, the best way to get things done as a leader is to stand behind employees, helping them lead the charge.
Of course, in order to let others share the leadership “role,” it is essential that the leader prepare those around her to rise to the occasion. There are four fundamental tenets that today’s leader needs to understand in order to effectively empower others to lead themselves.
Line of Sight
Though many leaders believe that they have the most complete information and the best overall view of their business, in actuality, employees have as much, if not more, mission-critical information and are often in a better position to understand their customers’ ever-changing needs. Because they are “on the front line,” employees are intimately familiar with processes and applications, and can see the challenges that require innovative solutions.
Ensuring that employees have the information and authority to create and implement solutions requires that they have a clear Line of Sight. By sharing critical information, as well as through coaching, leaders can ensure that their employees have a broad view that expands their perspectives and decision-making abilities, as well as increases engagement and empowerment. If, however, leaders hold to the old belief that, as the “leader,” it is their responsibility to make decisions at nearly all times because they are the most informed or most knowledgeable, they will hinder, as opposed to unleash, true innovation and creativity.
Consider: How might you be inhibiting your employees’ contributions?
Shift: What support can you provide to, or information can you share with, your employees so that they learn to make better decisions and contribute more innovative solutions?
It is quite rare, nowadays, for work to be done by a sole individual or even a single department. It is more likely that many people and departments connect and work together to contribute to obtaining an objective. It is not unusual for sales, marketing, finance, and pricing personnel, all of whom have different skill sets, to be working together on a project. Each department must now consider how their policies and actions ripple through to impact other teams involved in the workflow. With this human network in mind, it is no surprise that the American Management Association cited communication, collaboration, and critical thinking as three of the four critical skills for 21st Century Leadership. And, if you’re wondering what the fourth critical skill is, its creativity (which, of course, thrives based on line of sight and the other tenets).
The more the leader is involved, the more muddled connections can get. Instead, by “getting out of the way” and enabling employees to communicate and collaborate directly with each other across teams, departments, and disciplines, the leader ensures employee initiative and ownership.
Consider: How might you be in the middle of any communications or coordination in a way that could be slowing down performance?
Shift: In what ways can you step back while also fostering greater, direct collaboration within the human network to drive performance?
Engagement Comes from Within
A strong leader understands that the more his or her team members’ input is solicited in changing a process and defining its goals, the greater the probability that team members will be engaged and assume deeper ownership of the process. Instead of giving answers, a strong leader asks questions of the team—questions that are designed to build purpose, excitement, clarity, and focus; and questions that challenge blocks, create action, and increase accountability.
Leaders can actually foster more ideas and engagement when they recuse themselves from initial brainstorming sessions and idea generation processes. Aside from offering coaching when requested, effective leaders let employees identify potential challenges, determine possible solutions, and make sound recommendations.
Either in preparation for brainstorming or as a next step after it, a leader can coach the team to think from diverse angles, predict potential blocks, sharpen which criteria will guide the decision, and, overall, become more strategic in their decision-making. By doing so, the successful leader creates greater purpose for his or her employees, who become more committed and connected to the direction. Since they played a large part in creating the direction or solution, they have a significantly higher sense of ownership and “buy-in.”
Consider: What concerns do you have about turning over goal setting, problem solving and other important activities to your team? How might your assumptions be holding back the growth of the team and actually preventing you from getting to the next level as well?
Shift: What steps can you take to build your own confidence and better support your team in leading their own activities and initiatives?
Put Me in Coach!
People want their day in the sun, their chance to shine. A leader recognizes this and doesn’t steal the spotlight after all the hard work is done. A leader, though she may be part of the final group presentation, showcases the efforts and contributions of all the players on the team.
As much as a coach would relish having a team of Derek Jeters available whenever a game is on the line, realistically, that’s not the case. But, a highly intentional coach, who has invested the time in accentuating each team members’ strengths and developing each player to the best of his ability, will have greatly increased the team’s chances for succeeding on a recurring basis.
This is why building leaders, and not simply followers, is crucial. By building capacity, and not by merely directing or telling, a leader is constructing a strong and productive team. Not everyone needs to lead or perform in the same way, nor should they. Each person’s leadership style needs to fit who they are, their personality, and their exact values and perspectives. If you are intentional in understanding your team this way, and you are intentional about developing them individually, and as a team, then the whole will become significantly greater than the sum of its parts.
Consider: In what ways (perhaps with great intentions) might you have stepped up to the plate instead of putting your players in a challenging situation and seeing how they perform?
Shift: When developing leaders, identify the traits, perspective, energy, and values behind the different types of leaders you want on your team – and not just their talents or skill sets. Be intentional about developing these leadership types throughout your entire team.
Now more than ever, a leader needs to be the developer of people. And then, as great coaches do, after preparing their teams and positioning them to be as successful as possible, leaders needs to step back, get out of the way, and confidently put their team in the game.
About the Author
Luke Iorio, CPC, PCC, ELI-MP, is President & CEO of the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), the most comprehensive and experiential coach training program in the world and originator of the Core Energy Coaching™ process.
Since 2005, Luke and his team graduated more than 5,000 coaches and Coach Centric™ leaders across multiple platforms – top Fortune 500 execs, entrepreneurs, non-profit founders and educational leaders, and pro athletes.
Luke has an avid interest in human potential, engagement, and performance. Through coaching sessions with hundreds of clients as well as varied research projects, he seeks out the common threads that produce exceptional individual and team successes.
His drive to learn these insights comes from being a dad to two fun-loving children, and teaching them to live fully. In fact, Luke’s personal credo, “Live (and lead) on fire!” is omnipresent in everything he does!