Are You Creating a Company of Leaders or Followers?


There was a time when I thought getting promoted and being leader meant that I would know everything, tell people what to do, and they would do it. Ok, maybe that’s and oversimplification, but my wife would probably tell you it wasn’t that far off. Unfortunately, Hollywood doesn’t help this stereotypical image of leaders. When most of us are asked examples of leaders in movies, we think of Patton, or John Wayne. This is our default image of  leadership, even when we know better. Images like this have more to do with a cult of personality, then leadership.


If you want to build a dynamic growing organization, you need leadership on all levels. If you’re the boss, it’s your job to develop and cultivate that leadership. This means creating a culture of empowerment, where everyone comes in the door knowing that they have something to contribute and are able to do so. When I work with business owners most think they are creating this kind of environment, but unfortunately this is often a misperception.


There are sometimes the blatant cases of owners who have the need to micromanage, but more often it is much more subtle. The boss hires good people, doesn’t micromanage, and assumes that these people will take initiative, coming up with creative ways to solve problems. And then we are surprised when it doesn’t happen.


The problem is, we have been programed by default to work to not make mistakes. To do what we are told, stay within the lines, not to get creative. Our typical school experience was designed in the manufacturing age to create factory workers, not independent thinkers. If you want to develop a staff that takes advantage of empowerment and solves problems creatively, you need to constantly communicate that this is what is expected and is the standard. You cannot just expect people to figure it out.


The first step to communicating this is stop telling people what to do. When team members come to you with a problem, repress that instinctive reaction of providing a solution. Instead, ask questions. “What do you see?” “what do you think?” and then listen. Listen not to respond, but to learn. If your team sees that you are truly curious, and not just looking to catch them making a mistake, they will share their ideas and their creativity. Once it’s established that mistakes are opportunities to learn, and not opportunities to blame, you are headed down the right road.


As a leader, your goal should be that your team stops coming to you with problems and starts coming to you with solutions. In the book “Turn the Ship Around” by L. David Marquet, this concept is called Intent Based Leadership. When you follow this model eventually your people come to you stating “I intend to..”. This only requires you to listen, and acknowledge, or when appropriate, provide some course correction. When people at all levels of your organization are approaching problem solving in this manner your potential is now unrestricted. This also creates a business doesn’t require you to be involved in every decision to be successful. This creates a company that is worth more, and you and your team all have a better quality of life.


As a leader you have 3 Jobs:


The level of control you are able to delegate as a leader is dependent on the first two items. If your team lacks the competency to do the job, or an understanding of why they are doing the job you are only creating chaos. If you provide the first two, but not the last, you will only create frustration.


If you want a best-in-class company, you need to have high performing teams. To do that you need people who can think, and who are capable of taking leadership within the scope of their job. They are the ones closest to the problem and are most capable of solving it in the most efficient and creative manner possible. To accomplish this, you need to hire good people who are aligned with your core values, have competence or are able to become competent in their specialty, know the mission of the company, and have the resources to complete the job. The final step, and often for many of us the hardest…. get the hell out of their way!


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