There is a pervasive fear among inexperienced leaders: “I can’t trust my people.”
They never say it that way, of course. They may not even realize they feel that way. It comes out in more innocuous ways. It is the leader who is a borderline micro-manager (because people need direction), the person that resists delegating a task (because it has to be done “right”), or the time-watcher who judges their team’s commitment by what time each member’s day starts and finishes (rather than by the results they produced).
In other words, these people are heavy-handed leaders. They believe they have to be involved in everything, every step of the way. They worry if anyone else takes the wheel, that person will promptly drive the bus off a cliff.
I prefer to lead using cruise-control, adjusting course with a light touch, as needed. I grant my team a lot of authority and let them do things their way. In fact, one of the trade-offs of being a leader is you no longer get to decide what the “right way” to do something is. You give up having the only answers and trust people to reach the same results you would, but in their own way. In other words, I might show a team member how I perform a task but I do not expect them to do it the same way I showed them now and forever. I expect them to do it whatever way works best for them.
The way I see it, my job as a leader, has three primary functions:
1. Teach my team to think for themselves and create their own ways of getting work done. Essentially, as long as we are doing nothing that is immoral, unethical, or illegal, we are on the right track.
2. Stay out of their way. I provide their assignments and some direction. I am here for questions. Outside of that and asking for a regular update if I am not hearing from them (in case I have to update anyone), I trust them to do their work.
3. Remove obstacles. The time when it is appropriate to step in as a leader is when your team hits a roadblock. Then, you jump in and clear that roadblock–whether it is to provide tools or political cover or simply moral support–and then get back out-of-the-way.
Leading with a light touch helps your team rely on themselves, trust their decisions, and grow both personally and professionally. It helps you grow, too. When you learn to clear roadblocks instead of being a roadblock, you become an effective and trusted leader. You set the example for others and you end up determining the course of the whole organization, almost invisibly.
It is simple when you think about it. Just be someone you would want to work for.