The Illusion of Effectiveness

magician-dove-hat-101206-02In our careers, there are common roads we all must travel.  Some of those roads are rougher than others.  Some are littered with pot holes and speed bumps.  One of those rougher roads is making the transition from doingbeing a high potential individual contributorto leadingmotivating others to perform at their best. 

Whether we like it or not, our role changes as we progress in seniority from being “one of the team” that performs tasks, to being the leader that get things done through others and then finally to a senior leader that gets things done through multiple layers of others. 

The challenge we often face is that throughout our early professional roles, we’re rewarded for our effectiveness as doers, and when we achieve a more senior position we often assume that our effectiveness as leaders will rely upon the same behaviors that have fueled our success up to that point. 

This can lead to the illusion of effectiveness

I think I am more effective and successful because I am ‘getting stuff done’.  Thus the illusion.  The reality is that we live in a world where we are required to churn out more with less.  If we continue to try to leverage the same skills that got us here, we’ll find ourselves being a high paid individual contributor that works around the clock to churn out “more”. 

The further reality is that this not only limits our capacity and potential, but it limits the capacity and potential of the talent that is entrusted to us.  If we always “do it ourselves”, our people never learn, experience, and grow – which is not good for us, for them, or the organization.  Success hinges on being able to effectively delegate and entrust our teams and the teams around us to deliver.

In our journey to become great leaders, we should all take a minute to evaluate ourselves and identify where we are personally doing, when we should be doing (well) through others.  

Below are 6 tips to help keep you out of the business of ‘doing’:

ONE:  Evaluate where you have to compensate for others on your team.  Then address it.  Get to the core of the issue, develop them, and get past it.  Continuing to compensate means that you are working at a level or two from where the company expects you to be.

TWO:  Evaluate your to-do list each day.   Ask yourself if the tasks are things you should be doing or things you should be teaching your team to do.  If it’s the latter – teach them.

THREE:  Entrust others with important opportunities.  There is a difference between delegating and entrusting.  Entrust is a key word in delegating:  It means that you care about the results of what you delegate, and you’re willing to provide the support needed to help the team member achieve those results.  Our job as leaders is to build future leaders, which means that sometimes you have to take a risk so that they can learn. 

FOUR:  Empower your team.  To empower your associates is to do three actions:

  • Give associates the freedom to get a job done (no breathing down their necks).
  • Provide associates with the right level of support to get the job done well, including information, training, resources, and so on.
  • Hold associates accountable to produce the outcomes needed.

All three actions work together as part of the process. Thus, when you delegate effectively, you empower your team.

FIVE:   Identify mentors and trusted leaders that lead well and ask them for input as you develop your leadership style. Ask them how they avoid the pitfall of being an individual contributor when they should be leading. Tip:  Most leaders love to teach / give advice, so just ask. 

SIX:  Copter down, but don’t forget to copter back up.  There will always be times when you need to roll up your sleeves and jump in to help get things done.  You may find yourself in a position where there is no choice but to be an individual contributor.  It’s the nature of our culture. The danger is that if taken to an extreme, the person becomes so involved in doing things the old way that they neglect the leadership aspects of their role.  Make sure that if you dive down, you pull yourself back up and don’t stay mired in individual contributor mode.

The benefits of getting it right –

Think about the leaders you know who lead well and trust, teach and train the team to do their jobs.  One of the common things I’ve noticed about these stronger leaders is that they are generally more available.  Because they are not personally driving each initiative, they typically don’t have to fill their calendars with endless meetings week after week.  They trust their team to attend the regular project meetings and insert themselves when there are broader decisions to be made.  This is a good “gut check” for any of us.  Are we available on regular basis throughout the week to spend time with our teams teaching and guiding?

On your leadership journey, continue to evaluate and push yourself to lead at the correct level.  Empower your team to drive initiatives and be available to teach / train as necessary.

The illusion of effectiveness distorts reality but if we are intentional in our leadership approach, we can unlock our potential, our team’s potential, and lead well.

 Question:  What tasks or projects are you doing now that should be driven by your team? 

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Seasons Change. Do You?

Here in Northwest Arkansas, the seasons have definitely changed!  It went from being hot to cold, then back to “really nice outside” then to cold again.  So I guess I need to accept the fact that summer is gone and that fall is here.  It’s time to pull those cold weather clothes out of boxes and put away the shorts and flip flops.  Nature is forcing me change with it – or else freeze to death.  J

Our lives are similar, are they not?  We have a myriad of changes that occur all of the time around us.  Work changes.  Family changes.  Priority changes.  Political changes.  Environmental changes.  Health changes.  And so on. 

Some of these changes we control and some we don’t. 

How well do you accept or react when seasons of change enter your life?

I know for me that it depends upon the change.  I generally think I am pretty adaptable, but honestly, there are some places that I struggle more with change than others.

A good example for me is this blog.  When I started it, I had this grand vision of sharing leadership tidbits with folks like you on a pretty consistent basis.  It is something I enjoy doing very much.  I told myself that I was going to devote a certain amount of time to blogging and even went as far as to list this as one of my key priorities. 

I did pretty good for about a year, but then some seasons in my life started changing.  Work priorities increased significantly and some other priorities emerged in my personal life.  Things had changed.  But I was still hanging on to the blog as a priority even though I didn’t have time for it.  I would stress myself out when I didn’t get a post out on time and was worried about when I would get to the next one.  I wasn’t changing with the season in my life.

So, I finally had to let it go for a short while.  And when I made that change, my ability to adapt and devote my energy to the things I needed to improved significantly.  This reprioritization simply was adapting to my environment.

Seasons come and go in our lives.  Some are short.  Some are long.  Some require us to change a lot.  Some require us to change a little.  Regardless, there is one thing you can count on and that is that change is inevitable.

Recently I was reminded that one key characteristic of good leader is a “low resistance to change.”  And this is definitely true as I look across the leadership landscape of the company and organizations I work around and with.  If you can’t handle change as a leader, you might as well hang it up and pass the baton to someone that can.  Handling change properly and adaptability are critical components of a leader’s skill set and responsibility. 

How do you do that?  Here are three actions you can take to be a better leader when it comes to change.

Recognize It.  Leaders have to be able to discern change.  They need to understand the environment that they are in and when change is afoot or is required.  Leaders need to anticipate change.  They need to get ahead of change and prepare for it.  This isn’t always possible, but leaders should always be on the watch so that their reaction is elegant and they are un-phased in the eyes of their troops by what’s about to happen differently. 

Own It.  Leaders are required to understand ‘what’ change is required and ‘why’ to the very best of their ability.  This means that you may have to dig in and research or ask the right questions to clearly understand the direction or situation.  Sometimes things happen rapidly that require an immediate change in direction that the leader can’t explain, and at those times they have to have conviction in their decision making.  They must be unwaverying and not wishy-washy.  This does not mean inflexible.  It means that when your followers look in your eyes, they can see that you believe it, own it and can feel your sincerity and credibility.

Champion It.  Every day, changes are communicated and followers look to their leaders for guidance and understanding.  They are looking for subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) clues as to whether a change is good or bad or if they should support it or rise up against it.  It is not enough for leaders to simply understand and own the change.  They have to advocate it.  They have to lead the charge and do so in a way that is reassuring to those following that “without a doubt, we’re headed the right direction.” 

This also means that they need to be cognizant of the environment around them 360 degrees and encourage and influence others to own and champion the change.  This may mean that you have to take a peer (or even their own leader) aside that is being counter-productive and help get them on the right track.

Being a leader is an action oriented role.  It’s easy to lead when the boat is sailing in a straight line with good winds behind it on smooth waters.  It’s a testament to a leader’s abilities when any or all of those factors change.

As for me and this blog?  The good news is that sometimes the tides come back and the seasons in our life change back.  J

How well do you handle the seasons of change in your life?  What do you do to lead change?

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