Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Letting your team find their own path

I recently spent a week on the road.  As luck would have it, several key meetings were scheduled in the office for the same week.  I selected different members of my team to represent me at each.  They did a fantastic job representing themselves and our team.  They helped good decisions be made for our company and for our customers.

I'm proud of them, and in full disclosure, I also take pride in my role helping them be successful. But that is not the point of this post.  What I'd like to share are the lessons from a conversation prior to one of the meetings. For ease of reading, let me refer to the person with whom I talked as Chuck.
In preparation, Chuck and I talked about the intent of the meeting, who should attend from our team, how we thought the session would go, and our goals for the outcomes.  As we talked, I caught myself doing more dictating than coaching.  I was (not so) subtly guiding Chuck down a path of how I would have approached the meeting based on my role, my understanding of the background and attendees, and my knowledge of the situation.

Chuck stopped the conversations and said, "I need to do this my way.  I can't be you."  And Chuck was absolutely right.  We took a step back and looked at things from his perspective.  From there, Chuck led the approach with me in the better role of coach.  I challenged his assumptions when necessary and added context when needed.  In the end, we agreed that he would do much better as a confident Chuck than a pretend Neal.

Chuck went to the meeting and knocked it out of the park.  When asked how Chuck did, a peer executive texted me, "Very good.  [He] was strong."  I could end the story here, but there are two lessons I'd like to share.

First, without trust, Chuck wouldn't have advocated for himself.  I've written elsewhere about the need to build this culture.  This is a terrific example of why this matters.  If Chuck hadn't believed he could challenge anyone on the team - including me - he would have performed less effectively at the meeting.  Given the stakes, the results would have harmed the team and the business.

Second, it reminded me to let my leaders find their own way.  I try hard to not over manage, and yet it is easy to do so.  Only through constant self-awareness can I pull back and give my team the space to find their own solutions and style.  Each leader on my team has a unique way of approaching problems.  For them to grow, they need my guidance and trust.  And they need the confidence that comes from knowing that if they choose a path different than one I might have chosen, I will support them.

In the end, what matters is that we achieve good results.  To get good results, fall back to the basics of trust among the team and freedom to explore different paths to success.

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