This post is part of the Elements of Leadership series.
In our last installment of this series, we discussed setting the vision for your team and developing SOPs. Remember, your vision and SOPs don’t have to be or need to be complicated — they just need to be clear enough to tell your team where you’re going and give them some idea of how you’re going to operate as a team.
Now that they know WHAT you’re trying to achieve and how you’re going to work as a team, here are some ways to be an effective leader who supports their success.
1. Use the 1/3 – 2/3 Rule
No one likes getting handed the project that someone’s been sitting on until the last minute. The 1/3 – 2/3 rule states that you should give your team 2/3 of the time allotted for the project to complete it.
For example, if you have ten working days to complete a project, you should have the rough details of the project in their hands within two working days. You can’t always do this — urgency strikes and things have to happen now — but it’s a good rule to work by.
Many leaders resist this because they want to give the full plan all at once or have all the details worked out. In reality, this is more about the leader’s lack of confidence in themselves and trust in their team. If you have the right people on your team and you’ve done some work defining procedures and workflows, they can start the necessary preparation and planning to do the work earlier, avoiding the last minute oh craps! that lead to poor performance.
But the only way you can actually use this one is to…
2. Tell Them WHAT to Do, not HOW to Do It
If you try to plan everything down to the minute detail, you are mis-allocating your time and taking execution time away from your team. To be an effective leader, focus on giving your team the guidance they need, and leave it up to them to figure out how to do it. You’ve already set your vision and approved SOPs, so all they need is the critical requirements to get the job done.
An easy way to ask yourself whether you’re giving them too much information is to ask yourself if you’re telling them WHAT to do or if you’re telling them HOW to do it. If you’re telling them how they should do the job, either they aren’t trained for the job or you’re wasting everyone’s time.
If they don’t know how to do it, get them trained. If they already know how to do it, get out of the way and let them do it. The goal is to get your operators better at doing their jobs than you are — you make the big decisions, they do what it takes to see those decisions through, including making the types of decisions they can make on their own.
In my experience, you help develop better, more adaptable teammates by giving them as much latitude as possible, and they often do a better job than you could have estimated if you leave them alone and let them do what you pay and have trained them to do. This is hard to do because you have to learn to…
3. Be Open to Their Way Being Better
You probably think you know exactly how to get something done. Stop right now and get over yourself.
You can’t do everything, and it’s not your job — learn to accept that people are going to do things differently than you would and to focus instead on the end result.
As long as they’re doing the job within legal, ethical, and procedural parameters, they are getting the job done. If they go outside of those parameters, it’s your job to push them back into them.
The key thing here is for you to take note of the process. Their way may be significantly slower than your way, in which case you’ll probably want to step in and show them a more efficient way.
Their way may be significantly faster than your way, in which case you’ll need to learn from them, praise them for their efforts, and make that way part of your organization’s standard operating procedures. (Tweet this)
4. Use Their Time Wisely
People hate to have their time wasted, and as their leader, you are responsible for ensuring that people have enough to do to justify their being away from their families and free time.
As a general rule, give them more than you think they can do — people complain more fervently about not having anything to do than about having more to do than they can do. There is always work worth doing that isn’t being done, so don’t waste their time with make-work, either. You can always triage tasks for them if they need it, but it’s pretty apparent when you’re just trying to find something for them to do to fill time.
If you’ve set the vision for the organization and you encourage initiative, your junior leaders will start to make things happen. Think about how Google does business: 20% of their employees’ time can be spent on side projects that interest them. I don’t think the G-team will ever have to worry about their employees watching the clock and being unproductive. They’ve set a vision for innovation.
You’ve no doubt noticed that I continually use the words “guide” and “lead” rather than stronger words like “direct.” This is intentional: people don’t like having someone looking over their shoulders while they work, while constantly telling them how to do what they’re doing. It’s unproductive and generally demoralizing — they are trained adults who show up to do what they know how to do.
The next installation in this series is about spreading teamthink throughout your organization.
“Give Them Enough Guidance to Get the Job Done and No More”. This is really important. I’ve had bosses that tried to micromanage and it was always a disaster.
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