Are You Leading Too Much?
One of my clients and I were meeting a few weeks ago and I asked her to describe the day to me.
“My phone started buzzing at around 7 a.m. Texts were coming in from some of my early riser team members asking questions. Things like: I have a meeting with a client today, how should I handle it? And: My paperwork is still not processed, can you help me? And then my favorite: I have an upset client, can you talk to them? Nothing like starting your day with that…. I answered all of the texts and told them what to do, then drove to work. On the way, I attempted to listen to a motivational book on tape about leading your team, but I didn’t get far because of the phone calls that were besieging me about the same questions the texts were about. Apparently, they didn’t agree with my assessment or at the very least needed to confirm what I had already said. I pulled into the parking lot and walked into the office with my earpiece in still talking to my team member; I finally hung up when I was standing in front of him. I reiterated my advice and then walked into my office, closely followed by two other team members. After about an hour, we had solved their personal issues and moved into their work ones. We had to stop when I had an appointment with one of the team members to go through their weekly plan of action. After reviewing that for a few hours, I finally got to my other emails and phone messages. I tried to get all of them answered and responded to as quickly as possible because I knew at any moment someone would need something so I wouldn’t get to do it until tonight otherwise…. I got some of them done, but I still have a stack left. And then you got here…. I actually almost canceled our meeting because I am just SWAMPED….”
Does this sound familiar? This movie plays over and over and over in offices I visit all across the country. Have you ever seen the plate spinner act? A performer spins plates on top of small poles, one plate on each pole. As a plate spins it sits on top of the pole easily, but the spinner must keep the speed of each plate at a rate high enough to keep it sitting on the pole. If the spin slows too much, a plate will fall and break. The real fun begins when he starts spinning multiple plates on multiple poles. He has to constantly run from one to another to another maintaining pace on all of them at once. The excitement builds as he adds one plate after another as the crowd holds their collective breath waiting for the first one to fall…. How many plates are you spinning right now? Do you feel like any are about to fall? Do people keep adding plates to your “act” without you even knowing it? You finish spinning one and turn around and another one shows up that you didn’t even start? You inherit someone else’s plate! If all of this sounds a little close to home, in my experience, the fault is the leader’s…yours.
It is possible to “lead” too much. We get in our heads that the job of a leader is to be all, fix all and control all. We nobly take on more and more to “help” our team and be sure our team members are “taken care of.” We are first in and last out. We work at home, at lunch, and even on vacation. I feel a few of you shifting in your seat a little. To paraphrase The Rock, of wrestling fame, “Do you smell what I am cookin’?”
So what is the silver bullet that fixes this issue? As always, there isn’t a quick fix. More than likely, you have created a culture of complete and total reliance on you as the “leader.” LIfe is pretty good for many people if they don’t have to make a decision or deal with real problems…. You always take it, so why not hand you more?!?!?
The answer lies in true leadership. True leaders develop their people. They force them to grow each day. A lesson today becomes their duty tomorrow, versus a continuous education on the same subject. If you are in algebra class and the teacher shows you how to solve the equation before giving you the answer, you learned how to solve it. If they give you the answer every single time, why would you ever work to solve it on your own? It is a heck of a lot easier to just sit and wait for the answer to be given.
Developing your team is a much longer process than I have time to outline in this short article, but suffice it to say, it is possible to have a high-performing team that accomplishes more with less “work” from you. I guarantee it. You can have dinner with your family, you can take a vacation, and the job will still get done. In fact, it may be done even better. But: you have to develop the people in your organization to make the decisions and push the right buttons. It is a gradual process, and generally it is much easier and quicker with someone to help. The funniest part of the conversation with my client above was that she almost canceled the best way to help work through the issues she was having. We developed a plan to save her sanity and to get her some help with a few of her “plates.” It wasn’t an immediate fix, but it is moving the right direction. Just having a plan allowed her to relax and see the possibilities for the future.
Growth is hard. Doing what you have always done will not always work anymore. You should be allowed to enjoy your business’s success and your people deserve to grow. Get out of their way.