Leader, Get Out of the Way: 4 Fundamental Tenets of Effective Leadership

Effective leaders know when to step up to the plate and when to get out of the way.  Luke Iorio, President and CEO of the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), writes today on the characteristics of leaders that steer their teams most successfully. — Maurice Gilbert

coachThomas Paine’s advice to “lead, follow or get out of the way” was good leadership theory when it was written more than 200 years ago; but, if he lived today, Paine would have been more likely to say “Leader, get out of the way.” The concept of a leader making decisions and issuing directives that are blindly followed by staff members is an antiquated one in this era of employee engagement and involvement.  Often, the best way to get things done as a leader is to stand behind employees, helping them lead the charge.

Of course, in order to let others share the leadership “role,” it is essential that the leader prepare those around her to rise to the occasion. There are four fundamental tenets that today’s leader needs to understand in order to effectively empower others to lead themselves:

Line of Sight

Though many leaders believe that they have the most complete information and the best overall view of their business, in actuality, employees have as much, if not more, mission-critical information and are often in a better position to understand their customers’ ever-changing needs. Because they are “on the front line,” employees are intimately familiar with processes and applications and can see the challenges that require innovative solutions.

Ensuring that employees have the information and authority to create and implement solutions requires that they have a clear line of sight.  By sharing critical information and providing through coaching, leaders can ensure that their employees have a broad view that expands their perspectives and decision-making abilities and increases engagement and empowerment. If, however, leaders hold to the old belief that, as the “leader,” it is their responsibility to make decisions at nearly all times because they are the most informed or most knowledgeable, they will hinder, rather than unleash, true innovation and creativity.

Consider: How might you be inhibiting your employees’ contributions?

Shift: What support can you provide to, or information can you share with, your employees so that they learn to make better decisions and contribute more innovative solutions?

The Network

It is quite rare nowadays for work to be done by a sole individual or even a single department. It is more likely that many people and departments connect and work together to contribute to attaining an objective. It is not unusual for sales, marketing, finance and pricing personnel, all of whom have different skill sets, to work together on a project. Each department must now consider how their policies and actions ripple through to impact other teams involved in the workflow. With this human network in mind, it is no surprise that the American Management Association cited communication, collaboration and critical thinking as three of the four critical skills for 21st century leadership.  And, if you’re wondering what the fourth critical skill is, it’s creativity (which, of course, thrives based on line of sight and the other tenets).

The more involved the leader is, the more muddled connections can get. Instead, by “getting out of the way” and enabling employees to communicate and collaborate directly with each other across teams, departments and disciplines, the leader ensures employee initiative and ownership.

Consider: How might you be in the middle of any communications or coordination in a way that could be slowing down performance?

Shift: In what ways can you step back while also fostering greater, direct collaboration within the human network to drive performance?

Engagement Comes from Within

A strong leader understands that the more his or her team members’ input is solicited in changing a process and defining its goals, the greater the probability that team members will be engaged and assume deeper ownership of the process. Instead of giving answers, a strong leader asks questions of the team—questions that are designed to build purpose, excitement, clarity and focus; and questions that challenge blocks, create action and increase accountability.

Leaders can actually foster more ideas and engagement when they recuse themselves from initial brainstorming sessions and idea generation processes. Aside from offering coaching when requested, effective leaders let employees identify potential challenges, determine possible solutions and make sound recommendations.

Either in preparation for brainstorming or as a next step after it, a leader can coach the team to think from diverse angles, predict potential blocks, narrow which criteria will guide the decision and, overall, become more strategic in their decision-making. By doing so, the successful leader creates greater purpose for his or her employees, who become more committed and connected to the direction. Since they played a large part in creating the direction or solution, they have a significantly higher sense of ownership and buy-in.

Consider: What concerns do you have about turning over goal setting, problem solving and other important activities to your team?  How might your assumptions be holding back the growth of the team and actually preventing you from getting to the next level as well?

Shift: What steps can you take to build your own confidence and better support your team in leading their own activities and initiatives?

Put Me in, Coach!

People want their day in the sun, their chance to shine. A leader recognizes this and doesn’t steal the spotlight after all the hard work is done. A leader, though she may be part of the final group presentation, showcases the efforts and contributions of all the players on the team.

As much as a coach would relish having a team of Derek Jeters available whenever a game is on the line, realistically, that’s not likely. But a highly intentional coach, who has invested the time in accentuating each team member’s strengths and developing each player to the best of his ability, will have greatly increased the team’s chances for succeeding on a recurring basis.

This is why building leaders, and not simply followers, is crucial. By building capacity, and not merely directing or telling, a leader is constructing a strong and productive team. Not everyone needs to lead or perform in the same way, nor should they. Each person’s leadership style needs to fit who they are, their personality and their exact values and perspectives. If you are intentional in understanding your team this way, and you are intentional about developing them individually and as a team, then the whole will become significantly greater than the sum of its parts.

Consider: In what ways (perhaps with great intentions) might you have stepped up to the plate instead of putting your players in a challenging situation and seeing how they perform?

Shift: When developing leaders, identify the traits, perspective, energy and values behind the different types of leaders you want on your team – and not just their talents or skill sets. Be intentional about developing these leadership types throughout your entire team.

Now more than ever, a leader needs to be the developer of people. And then, as great coaches do, after preparing their teams and positioning them to be as successful as possible, leaders needs to step back, get out of the way and confidently put their team in the game.

This piece was run originally in The CEO Magazine and is republished here with permission.


Luke IorioLuke Iorio, President & CEO of iPEC, came to iPEC from the marketing and management consultant industry. Working with entrepreneurs, he quickly found the missing ingredient between those that succeeded and those that didn’t: Engagement! Making the switch from consultant to coach, Luke empowers individuals to fully and powerfully engage in all that they do, having a positive and contagious impact on all those they touch in both their personal and professional lives. Playing full out, Luke brings a tremendous amount of energy, passion and focus to everything he does. Since 2005, Luke and his team have now graduated more than 6,000 coaches and Coach Centric™ leaders across multiple platforms – top executives in Fortune 500s, pioneering entrepreneurs, incredible nonprofit founders and educational leaders and professional athletes. Luke has an avid interest in human potential, engagement, and performance. Through coaching sessions with hundreds of clients as well as varied research projects, he seeks out the common threads that produce exceptional individual and team successes. He’s also an avid blogger and expert resource, having been quoted in The Huffington Post, Fox Business, andNext Avenue, among many other publications.

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