Epic Leader Fail!

Stop Doing the Work and Get the Work Done.

Many years ago, early in my leadership experience, I employed an admin named Janet*. Janet was a godly senior with the most remarkable spirit to help. She tried to do everything I asked, and her questions fell from her lips as water from Niagara falls. She was a saint. She just wasn’t very detail oriented, timely or efficient.

Whose fault was that? Mine.

It was a Wednesday, and being the terrific leader that I thought I was, I decided that rather than do the task myself, I would entrust it to Janet. At the same time, I knew that the task would take a couple of hours and that I would have to patiently wait for it. I also knew that the job would not be the quality that I expected or would have achieved myself. I waited…

By the next morning, Janet was still working on the project. Eight payable hours later and she was not yet finished. In my frustration, I took the project away from her and had it finished 25 minutes later to a much higher degree of quality. What a loser! Me, not her.

Here’s what I accomplished that day.

Project finished to a high degree of excellence (and in 1/18th of the time)!
One devastated admin that paid the price of a lower self-worth.
A missed opportunity to allow another to grow in skill and self-confidence.
One upset boss with a “See what I can do!” attitude that was displeasing to God. And…
A perpetual cycle of repeating that monthly task myself, 25 minutes of my time, every month, for eternity.
Epic. Leader. Fail… Lesson learned? Oh Yeah!

I would love to be able to take back those early years and decisions. However, in a way, I am grateful to look back upon them knowing that I have grown. One key element of a transformational leader is their ability to inspire and uplift, not tear down and destroy. The task-master can build an organization, but a leader can build community with a purpose.

About Inspiring Others…

You really do not need to look very hard to see the God-given gifts in other people. As their leader, a word from you—affirming their gift—will do more to motivate them to pursue it than perhaps any other worldly encouragement. Be observant, and when you see it, capitalize on it.

“Hey, Jonathan! I was watching you the other day, and I need to say… you have a unique ability for organization.”

Leave it at that. Let the compliment do the rest. Remember, it is about building up the individual, not manipulating them so that they will work for you. The first will bear fruit, the second is unethical.

If we are not first-and-foremost about building people, we will find ourselves far less the leaders than we otherwise would be.

Give them a model in your leadership that they can reproduce for others.

*name changed

Lead the System

If you were driving on a dark country road, and you saw the sign, Bridge Out, What would you do? Would you continue on to your own peril, or would you change your direction? Many leaders are continuing in the same direction… to their peril. They continue to work in the system, managing everything and everyone, and all the while the road is falling out beneath them. The signs (unlike the one above) were in place a long time prior to the road’s collapse, yet through seasons of delay and a general lack of ideas on how to change their reality, the leader–and the organization–fall.

So, How do you stop managing and start leading? If we could answer this question in one simple paragraph, the sky would open, the songs of a thousand birds would fill the sky and rose petals would fall upon our path. The reality is that the answer to that question is as unique as your specific gifts and talents, and your ability to leverage them to act and think differently. In other words, you need to begin the downplay of using your gifts and talents and start leading others in their gifts and talents. I may not have all the answers, but I do have some starting points.

Provide Context

The first step is to be completely clear about what you or the organization requires. Framing the work within the broader context gives clarity to the recipient. They must be clear how the work contributes to the overall success of the organization.

Delegate Authority and Responsibility

Delegating responsibility to complete a task it relatively easy; “Get it done!” Delegating the authority to accomplish it can be another story. It requires confidence and trust in the individual. It also requires you to let go! Without the ability to make a decision that you will support, people will never be (or feel) empowered to complete the tasks that they are given. They will move forward in fear.

Support don’t Abdicate

Leading the system is just that, leading. It does not mean that you delegate and forget. Especially in the early stages of a project. People need your support and encouragement. They may need your skills. They may need you to push them when they feel they cannot and you know they can. If you abdicate your authority you will leave your people feeling alone and discouraged.

Only Delegate When Appropriate

Make sure that those to whom you delegate have the necessary skill to carry out the task. If not, they will be frustrated, you will be frustrated, and the work will not be completed.

Look at Team and Sub-team Structure.

Map it out. Keep all parts of the team communicating with each other. Check for consistency, effectiveness, and overlap. Make sure that all areas of overlap have clear owners in terms of responsibility. The ultimate goal is a streamlined team, not a one-on-one manager-to-direct report relationship.

Delegation Questions

About Delegation…

Delegation is a win-win when done appropriately. However, that does not mean that you can delegate everything. To determine when delegation is most appropriate there are five key questions you need to ask yourself:

Is there someone else who has (or can be given) the necessary information or expertise to complete the task? Basically, is this a task that someone else can do, or is it critical that you do it yourself?

Does the task provide an opportunity to grow and develop another person’s skills?

Is this a task that will recur, in a similar form, in the future?

Do you have enough time to delegate the job effectively?
Time must be available for adequate training, for questions and answers, for opportunities to check progress, and for rework if that is necessary. However, this investment of time, in the long run, will greatly benefit you and the organization.

Is this a task that you should delegate?
Tasks critical for long-term success (for example, recruiting the right people for your team) genuinely do need your attention.
If you can answer “yes” to at least some of the above questions, then it could well be worth delegating the job.

Lead Leaders

Stop leading followers and lead leaders.

Picking the right people is a tricky proposition. Many of us have handed the torch to another only to find it is a “beat stick” in their hands. Bringing harmony to a team that has been destroyed by a less-than-capable leader whom you appointed is far more difficult than getting the choice right in the first place.

Even the ancients understood this. This interesting quote comes from Onasander, a Greek philosopher from the first century A.D., and shows that even 2000 years ago men wrestled with these very issues.

“Most men are distressed when placed under the command of ignoble individuals. For no one voluntarily puts up with submitting to a master or a leader who is inferior to himself.” (Onasander, The General 1.17)
Many leaders, given such an experience, will digress back to leading followers instead of seeking a new capable leader to assist in leading the organization. Stop! You need people whom you trust to help you carry the load of transformational change. You can be a mentor. Taking time and investing in another has huge benefits for the future. The time invested in another capable leader will multiply your abilities to lead.

About Mentoring…

If mentoring sounds like a great idea, you still have to decide whether it’s right for you. The questions below should serve as a wake-up call as to your ability to lead other leaders as opposed to followers.

Do you get excited at the idea of sharing the knowledge and experience that has been given to you, or do you feel that you are incapable of imparting anything of value to another?

Do you enjoy encouraging and motivating people toward a goal and rejoice with them when it is accomplished, or do you make every effort to take the glory?

Are you comfortable challenging people to be better even if you know it may cause them discomfort, or would you rather accept sub-standard work and internalize your discontent?

Do you want to contribute to other people’s growth and success, or do you see it as a threat to your value in the organization?
Can you faithfully invest your time in mentoring your leaders, or are you so absorbed in meaningless tasks that you cannot give anything to anyone without feeling like you are falling behind?

Do you feel that building a leader is the most important focus of your efforts, or do you feel the daily tasks you accomplish are greater organizational contributions?

Can you visualize the future leader that you would like to mentor? Can you describe their qualities and their talents, or are you one that grows frustrated because you grab any warm body that seems willing?

I hope that these questions, coupled with the understanding of the importance of building leaders, helps you make the next positive step toward transformational change in your organization’s culture. Perhaps they will serve as a mirror that reflects the deficiency of your leadership. Regardless of whether this motivates, or infuriates, you are faced with your introspection and that’s a good thing. Knowledge truly is power.