“Leave it with me. I’ll deal with it.”
And there it is. The fatal mistake. Plus you’ve done it in record time. Well done. The transfer was clean and effortless.
You have just taken on someone else’s problem.
This is perfect, to escalate, or even just maintain, your hero status. Or perhaps you felt they were already busy and you didn’t want them to be taking on more. Maybe you were unsure of whether that area was in their job description. Or, you thought you would do it quicker, or better, or whatever.
The bottom line result is:
- You have taken on another matter to deal with, adding more to your load.
- You have removed the opportunity for someone else to be challenged, to learn and to grow.
Congratulations, but it’s hardly a win-win.
As a leader it is so easy to take on someone else’s problem. Any member of your team can come to you with a problem and, because you’re the leader, you feel compelled to be there to solve the problem for them. And so after they explain to you the problem you say ‘Leave it with me. I’ll deal with it’. How often have you said those words? They can sneak out so quickly! And you might be thinking you are being so helpful. Perhaps not.
So there is one side of your brain saying I’m the hero here I’m going to fix the problem for them. I’m making their life easier. They’re busy I don’t really want to overload them, and after all, I’m the leader, so maybe I should be the one solving the problem, it’s my responsibility.
It may be your responsibility in the long run, but that doesn’t mean you are leading well by dealing with it yourself.
But what you’ve done is taken the problem away from them, leaving them without the opportunity to either utilise their skills or learn new skills to solve that problem.
Your leadership might have been more focused on the immediate situation and not the long-term plan of developing each member in your team. Yes you might be right, that it’s quicker to do it yourself. But that is short-sighted thinking.
Then there is the perspective of your team member to consider, and also what they are telling the rest of the team, as a result of your action. Some may respond to your approach with a viewpoint that, you’re not helping them by taking the problem from them and that you are, in effect, controlling the situation and ensuring that you remain holding the power, not allowing them to have the opportunity to step up and solve the problem and learn and grow in the process. They will feel disempowered, not valued, and definitely feel they are not trusted enough to be left with these problems. There are others in the team who have strategically come to you with a problem, knowing full well that they could solve it, but also knowing that it’s your style to take the problem on, make it your own, and that you do this to ensure your hero status continues. They are the clever ones here, not you. They have worked you out.
We shouldn’t be thinking that any problem is a ‘yours’ or ‘mine’ dichotomy. This is not how a great leader operates. A great leader is consistent. This is key. They have a particular mindset that regards every member of their team as being full of potential and capable and just need the resources necessary for the solution. The great leader’s role then is simply, to help them identify the resources they need and help make those resources more accessible. The problem remains with the team member, but they know they have your support to help find the way forward.
This is coaching and it happens through following a framework and asking great questions. It’s not about advice-giving. It’s not about having all the answers. It’s supportive, collaborative and it’s empowering. According to Deloitte, “organisations with senior leaders who coach effectively improve their business results by 21%.” Add to this, Google undertook an important piece of research and found that the “single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones was coaching.” Coaching is consistent and it’s was great leaders do every day.
The coaching mindset is one where you hold great belief in the individual and their ability and your role is to help them realise that ability and grow. A coaching leader is constantly growing the people around them, not taking things from them from which they could grow, but allowing them to sit with the problems, explore, ruminate, find options, and work through a resulting choice of solution.
So whose problem is it really? If your team member comes to you with a problem, it is incumbent on you, as the leader, to help them deal with that problem, but not for you to solve it, not for you to take it on as yours. Instead provide the support, be a partner, a solution-facilitator, and work with them to find a way through this problem and the resulting solution choice. A great leader will make sure they remain accessible if more discussion and support is needed as the team member moves further through the process. They provide the safe space to explore, be the sounding board to unpack thinking, be the provocateur, challenge thinking with great questions that explore the benefits and obstacles of each option.
By being the support person, you are helping a solution to be found but you’re not taking it on yourself, you’re not adding to your own workload and in the process de-skilling and disempowering the members of your team. You will be providing them a safe space to stay with a problem and pull it apart. You’re setting them up for a better level of success in the future, because you’re teaching them thinking frameworks to work through decisions and to work through challenges. The time initially might be a bit longer but that time invested is worth it. During this time together not only will it upskill them, not only will it expand their thinking, not only will it empower them to be more in control of the situation, not only will it ensure they are accountable for the result, but you are also ensuring a far stronger, more collaborative, more trusting relationship develops in the process.
Now you have a true win-win!
If I have convinced you that coaching is something you need in order to improve the way you lead, please explore Module 3 of the Elevating Leadership Program. We hold the program once a semester. It’s a 20 hour program that involves 2 workshop days, some professional reading and a written self-reflection, plus feedback about your coaching style and progress.
Janine Stratford, is a Leadership Coach and Career Strategist, working with teachers and leaders in schools across Australia and New Zealand. A former teacher and school leader, she is passionate about developing great leaders as role models for their schools and their students. You can find out more about Janine at www.coachingfocus.com.au