One of the benefits of my “portfolio career” is that I am able to see the same challenge from several different angles. Any good photographer knows that a change in perspective can completely alter the scene.
Recently I’ve been talking with several of my coaching clients, with my fellow Elements Massage franchisees, and with my nonprofit colleagues about the importance of letting go of control. Theoretically, we all agree that we want to delegate more. We want to empower our people & free up our own time. We are also committed to results, and reluctant to take the chance that they won’t be delivered – often because we’ve been burned when extending that trust in the past. Here are six key lessons I’ve gleaned from the wise folks in my portfolio.
Micromanagement creates learned helplessness. Team members used to being spoon fed instructions will sit back and wait for instructions, every step of the way. This may increase the likelihood that they’ll approach a task the way you want them to. It definitely means you will be chained to tactical execution and problem solving, and prevented from spending adequate time thinking strategically or having a life outside of the office.
Share, care and empower. Make sure your team understands your vision, and set very clear expectations for what success looks like. Ask them what’s unclear, and what’s in the way of their ability to fulfill that expectation. Have they been given the knowledge, time and budget to make it realistic? While none of us typically have all the resources at our disposal that we’d wish for in an ideal scenario, a leader’s job is to make sure that they are sufficient to make success possible. Now get out of their way.
Control goals, not the means. The plan should include milestones that will build your confidence in the end result, so monitor progress against those milestones. Don’t dismiss the possibility that someone might reach the desired results by following a slightly different path than you would have. Have frank discussions about what steps are necessary, and why.
Allow space for failure. Nobody learns without making mistakes. The trick is balancing the consequences of failure with the consequences of micromanagement. The consequences of failure can range from zero to we-are-all-looking-for-jobs catastrophic. Recognize that not every failure is at the dramatic end of that scale. Build in guardrails to catch failures before they reach that magnitude. You don’t always have to man that guardrail, by the way. Create shared accountability, trust and commitment by having team members check each other’s work instead of wedging yourself in the bottleneck position.
Don’t miss the teachable moments. In most busy cultures, we don’t spend enough time reflecting on successes and failures. Don’t squander the opportunity to replicate success by understanding what made it possible. Minimize the probability of failure repeating itself by analyzing the causes and ensuring everyone understands the impact. Every team member needs to own their own learning and progress toward future success. Some people won’t measure up. Whether because of a shortfall in aptitude or attitude, some will continue to fail. There must be consequences, and you will undoubtedly have to make hard choices. If you fail to do so, the lesson will be that results don’t matter.
Your beliefs drive your team’s actions, and ultimately, results. Pay attention to what’s going on in your own head and heart. Are you afraid of failure? Perhaps you don’t really trust your team to deliver? Or do you feel guilty if you don’t rescue them from every misstep? These beliefs aren’t just in your head – they’re clear to your team. A culture based on fear and control creates employees afraid to take initiative. A culture of trust and empowerment nurtures pride, accountability, engagement and results.