Give Up Being Right – Effective Leadership Develops Staff

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Among my favorite (and there are many) maxims from my noted friend, Ken Blanchard, is “give up being right, you’ll end up dead right.” His point is that if your mission or purpose as a leader is developing others, as it should be, focus on reinforcing others being right or nearly right. Get your ego, need for admiration, thirst for making all the decisions or being in control out of the way, and find satisfaction in seeing others getting it right at an increasing rate.

skills-gc6d95438b_1920-300x146.jpgKen describes developing others in his classic One Minute Manager and Situational Leadership books. Begin by telling them and showing them. This is the hands-on approach gives direct reports the answers to the first and second of the 7 Questions in Creating High Performers: Do you know what is expected of you?, and Do you know what good performance looks like?

Next, you let them try . If they get it right, give them what he calls a One Minute Praising, i.e., acknowledgment for getting it right. This ties to Creating High Performer’s Question 3, Do you get feedback on the results you produce? If they don’t get it right, then redirect, i.e., repeat telling and showing them, assuming that you were not clear or complete the first time through.

Making this shift to focusing on others “getting it right” requires embracing a new paradigm about leadership and what results leaders should produce. It is a shift from directing and overseeing one’s minions to developing them to be stand-alone peak performers, no longer requiring your direction or support. Years ago, I read an interview with Malcolm Forbes in his Forbes magazine. Asked how the chief exec of such a large enterprise could spend so much riding his motorcycle around Manhattan and journeying in hot air balloons, Forbes responded quickly, “because I did my job.” Forbes had shed his need to be needed and in control. He understood that real power lay in his organization performing consistently well on its own.

Instead, many leaders need to be seen as in the know and in control, adhering to their traditional leader picture. They may also feel the need to be needed. I know in my own leadership development that, until I shed myself of the belief that everyone needed my support or help, I was held back from completely letting go of a highly competent direct report, i.e., effectively delegating. It was I that needed to be needed rather than others needing me.

Another hurdle for leaders is fear that costly mistakes will reflect on them and they will lose their luster. No employee development succeeds without tolerance for errors. One of my favorite stories involves a legendary leader from the glory days of IBM and a young MBA graduate completing his first year and first project for the company. His project was a dismal failure, and shortly after that was known, the CEO’s secretary called him at home to schedule a face-to-face meeting. The young exec told his wife, “honey call a realtor; I am going to get fired tomorrow.” Once in the meeting the next day, the CEO began to explain the next project he wanted to be undertaken. The young exec was stunned, and the CEO inquired about it. The young man said, “sir, do you know who I am?”. “Of course, I do,” he responded. “Well, I thought this meeting was about firing me because of the failure of my project.” The CEO responded, “young man, I just invested one million in your education; I am not about to fire you as I want a return on my investment”.

The irony is that letting go of being right strengthens leaders. Strength of followership measures leadership. Yes, followers look to leaders to keep them safe, i.e., the enterprise executing the right strategy, free of lawsuits or bad public relations. More importantly, followers want to attach themselves to leaders who believe in them.