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Coach's Corner--June 23, 2008

To motivate your team, loosen your grip on the controls

The Client
Name: Andrew
Age: 35
Title: Director of information technology
Time with company: 4 years
Industry: International aid organization
Issue: Learning to let the team grow
Q. I lead a talented team of professionals. Recently they told me that I run on ahead and don’t let them catch up. As a result, they feel left out of decisions and are losing their motivation. I just like to get things done. How do I handle this?

A. In addition to making decisions and getting work done through your own efforts, leading a team depends on inspiring and motivating your team members. Stepping away from your overused strengths to develop new ones will help the whole team grow and achieve.

The inner game
The strengths that have brought you success are probably based on your ability to be decisive and drive action, highly visible skills that are often rewarded in the workplace. While it can feel very risky to step away from your strong suit, it’s important for you to really understand how overuse of these characteristics is holding your team back. Start by considering what it means to be a leader who “gets things done” through motivating others. Try thinking about how you’ve felt when you’ve been railroaded, or how that feels to the high-potential people on your team. Work through this until you have a sincere acceptance of your need to change. Consider the risks of not changing, too, especially the likelihood that your best people will leave for places where they are encouraged to grow.

Then, think about the new skills you’ll be able to develop. As a great leader, you can focus on letting your team members have new ideas, make mistakes, see opportunities, and enrich your organization beyond your individual abilities to do so. Consider how you need to develop to become a visionary, mentor, and sounding board for your team.

Finally, focus on your concerns about change. Your new approach requires trust in your team to step up, and trust in yourself that you can develop new skills. It also requires trust that your boss and your whole organization will support you in finding a different way to lead.

The outer game
Now it’s time to roll the new approach out to your team. Because you’ve sought their feedback, you have a great opening to let them know that you’ve listened and take their feedback seriously. Seek more information if needed, finding out what behaviors are most troublesome: interrupting, for example, or forgetting to share information.

Then, give them more prominent roles leading projects and representing your group. Instead of doing this work yourself, have one-on-one meetings where you coach team members, brainstorm with them, and let them learn from your skills. While you’re at it, find a mentor who can help you adapt your style with a minimum of pain. And be ready for some pushback from your organization as you empower others to take more visible roles in your place — be an advocate for your team members rather than backing down too soon.

The last word
It’s not easy to step away from proven strengths, but it’s the only path to growth. Your courage will open up new possibilities for you and those around you.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted June 22, 2008
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