Erring on the side of direction

Over the last 12 months I’ve been speaking to people about leadership. Sometimes this is with technical people who are progressing up a career ladder into managment roles; sometimes it is with experienced leaders thinking about their own work or that of their teams. Often we touch on the subject of how to make change happen—particularly when the individual concerned knows what kind of change they want to see occur.

Happily, pretty much everyone I’ve encountered understands the importance of empowering their team, and ensuring that the team is not dictated to. However, many try empowerment alone, and they find that does not create any meaningful change. Their team members may see the need to do things differently, they may even believe they have the power to do things differently, but somehow the change just doesn’t seem to materialise.

When this happens, one of the things I see is that the person leading the effort has erred too much on the side of empowering others, and has neglected the importance of setting a firm direction and a realistic plan. They are being a facilitator or a manager, but not a leader. Others in the team may feel the need, but they don’t possess the drive or the strong motivation that the head of the team does. This shouldn’t be too surprising. The head of the team has got where they are for a reason, and once they get there they experience different things to their team members. Of course their drive and motivation will not be shared by their team members.

And having provided the firm direction, it is then up to the head of the team to make sure the change happens. That is a whole other topic but, once again, it’s not something that can simply be deferred to others. (Or rather, the times when I’ve seen much of it deferred successfully to others are times when those “others” are brought in from outside and given a specific mission.)

People in organisations generally want their leaders to succeed—because they want to be part of the succeess—but it’s important for the leaders to make that success happen, rather than just pointing the way and expecting people to go there of their own accord.

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