In one of my previous articles, I stated that if you want a promotion, you need to be able to replace yourself. I remind you of one of my friends who worked hard and deserved the promotion, yet, he never trained his replacement. When promotion time came, he was told simply that they could not spare him from his present position for fear the area would suffer in his absence. It’s an easy rut to fall into. You just took over, you started making changes, things are starting to work well for you and you can’t let go for fear it will falter or fail without your direct control of everything. Surprisingly, many managers feel that way, but in doing so, they stifle their own growth. As George Brooks pointed out in his article on business.com, “How to Replace Yourself in Leadership Roles”, “Letting go is never easy.” However, you “need to focus on high-level strategy while your team handles the day-to-day work.” This is the best piece of advice I can offer anyone in a management or leadership position. Train and develop your people to be self-sufficient. Allow them to make mistakes so that they can learn from them. Be a coach, not a demanding intimidator. Develop your people so they understand every aspect of the operation because once they understand how their part contributes to the overall objective, they will become more productive. Empower them to make decisions and take responsibility for their work, in turn, they will be more accountable for their work. When you think about it, if every decision had to first go by you, when do you have time to do your job, complete your objectives, and find ways for process improvements? You would actually become the slowdown or speed bump point for all projects.As George Brooks points out, some managers are “addicted to the feeling of control” and as a result work many hours, sometimes on weekends or holidays, because they have to control everything. Also Brooks highlights “as I’ve learned to trust others to wear hats for me” his company grew and his team members grew to fill the roles they were entrusted with. My contribution to this is monitor at first, if they struggle then help them. If you have given them too much too soon, don’t hesitate to pull back the reins a little and help them grow back into that decision spot. Another factor to consider is that not everyone will perform the task in the same way. What works for one, may not work for another. Don’t force your method on anyone, explain what needs to be done and give them the room to work with it. They might surprise you and show you a more efficient way than you were doing – be open to suggestion and improvement ideas. The three things that George Brooks suggest you do to help you “let go” are “outsource your mind” – “replace your skills” – and “replace yourself with new leaders.” Let’s explore his ideas a bit. 1.Outsource your mind – “outsource” certain responsibilities to others within your team so that you can free yourself to focus on larger tasks. According to Brooks, the first step is to identify those jobs that you do really well and take the least amount of additional effort to maintain. The other items that may take more of your time and effort, and can be handed off to a team member to manage and grow, should be considered. However, from my point of view, make sure it is a task that can be accomplished by whomever you assign it to. Ensure you are not setting someone up for failure, but rather for success. You should probably start with those tasks that are a bit simpler, though time consuming, so that it gives you time to still monitor initially as well as getting comfortable with delegating some of your duties.2.Replace your skills – The object is to replace yourself in certain roles or tasks that you have so as to free yourself up for more important tasks or projects. Brooks states that at first he was “terrified” and he felt compelled to try and micromanage the individual; however, while their approach was different from how Brooks would attempt it, he soon discovered that the selected individual was having a positive impact on the business. Slowly Brooks let go, learning he had made a good choice and this was one less task he had to worry about. With this success on hand, Brooks decided to repeat the experience with another member of his team. Initially, it will be hard for you to seek out and trust someone to replace your “control” over a task or situation. As you scan your staff in search of someone who you feel can perform and will be accountable, Brooks warns to “be careful”. You should make sure that the one selected comprehends the task and the outcome required to be successful. You want someone who is going to have good people skills, someone who will motivate and not dictate, and where possible, someone that the other members respect and trust. There will probably be those instances where you may have to step in to support or counsel your new mentee. You want to do this in a way that the mentee will also learn to do that with the team they are leading.Brooks also warns that this change may be an “emotional toll of changing how you relate to others.” This means that instead of keeping very close tabs on everyone, to giving your workers the autonomy and trust to do their jobs without you standing over their shoulder and push all their buttons. Initially, your people will need your guidance and support – you just have to learn to regulate how much you support and help vs. taking control back over, and how to guide them to resolve on their own without your help. Once you accomplish this, you will be amazed at how quickly you are able to develop all of your people to be self-sufficient.If at all possible, depending upon the size of your work group, divide your group into little mini-teams and try to develop a leader in each group. 3. Replace yourself with New Leaders - Understand that this process is not easy, especially at first try. You can’t just appoint someone to take over a task or lead a team and then leave them dangling. You need to turn it all over in a more methodical method of both coaching and encouraging. As Brooks pointed out, “I gave them space to find solutions while supporting them along the way.” Without your guidance, they could fall short and fail and thus this will make others within your group refrain from wanting any similar situation. The key to success here is to congratulate them on their accomplishments, publicly where possible; and never scold or counsel them in any other fashion than in private – one-on-one. The way to create someone who will be a good coach is to be the example and be the good coach to them. If at all possible, depending upon the size of your work group, divide your group into little mini-teams and try to develop a leader in each group. If you engineer this properly, each leader will in turn also look to find someone they trust and will try to develop to take their place, should they get promoted. Of these new leaders that you have created, search for the one who most closely replicates the success you have achieved, and begin grooming them to take your place. In the end, you are creating a workforce that does not need to be constantly propped up and can function fully on their own. Some say they are creating their own termination and will be replaced with someone younger at a cheaper price. That’s old school thinking and I hope you evolve from that. The truth is you have demonstrated that you have ability to grow and develop people into self-sufficient workers, and what this tells your boss is, you are ready to take his/her place or move into a stronger position within the company. Think of the process as a strong, positive career growth strategy to advance your career, not the road to your exit strategy. Be wise, lead by example, coach your people to excellence and the results will surprise you.
How to Stay On Top as a Leader
Whether you have been in a leadership role for a while or was just recently promoted to a leadership role, you can not afford to just be stagnant. You need to stand out from the others, go a little above and beyond; be an innovator and “make your mark.” In a recent article by Jenn Branstetter, “5 Things Leaders Must Do to Stay On Top”, Jenn offered five skills leaders need to possess if they want to rise up over the others.1. Be Organized - Keeping a calendar/organizer, a project “To Do” list, and prioritizing will greatly improve your image and credibility. With projects, knowing what is to be done when and by whom is extremely important so that you successfully managing assignments. Knowing what is going to be covered in an upcoming meeting helps you prepare for that meeting.2. Reliability - You want to be known as the person who gets things done on time, ensuring that projects/assignments get done before, or at the lastest, by its due date. Branstetter points out you need to “estimate the time your own work takes and the time it takes to navigate company politics.” A good rule of thumb, says Jenn, is to build in a “20% buffer time” as this kind of “up-front planning” affords you the opportunity to review the project and determine which items are going to take the longest time and/or pose a potential problem for you; then head them off early so you do not run behind. 3. Be a Good Listener - According to Branstetter, being a good listener is the “secret to getting things done in a large company.” The key to this is actually stop what you are doing, look at the person talking, and give them all of your attention. Acknowledge with body language or short verbiage to let the speaker know that you are listening and hearing them. If you are every unsure of what is being said, paraphrase it back for clarity. The important point is that by showing that you care to hear them will help build trust and credibility because the speaker will know they have been heard and acknowledged.4. Be Accountable - Credible leaders do what they say they will do. Your reputation is everything, if you commit to a deadline, others are counting on you to meet that date. I’m going to add to this that you set the example, and never expect out of your subordinates something you cannot do yourself. Yes, as a leader you need to hold your people accountable, but that includes yourself also - again, you set the example. 5. Kindness and Compassion - Remember the golden rule - “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” For me, this translates to treat others as you would like to be treated in that scenario. As Branstetter points out here, “being genuinely interested in your co-workers” and treating everyone with kindness and mutual respect will gain loyalty, respect, trust and even increased productivity. Converse briefly with your people, get to know what some of their interests and potential problems are. When you need something done, don’t tell someone to do it - ask them to do it instead, and when they have completed the task, thank them for doing it - praise is a powerful weapon.6. This one I am going to add – Be Approachable and Available - Some managers claim to have an open door policy, but they don't really practice that. Help your employees and co-workers feel safe and comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas or concerns with you. Talk with your people, don’t talk TO them. I leave you with my recommendation for being a great leader and how to stay on top:1)Maintain a high standard of personal conduct.2)Show respect to everyone.3)Avoid unprofessional or questionable actions.4)Lead by example5)Try to always exercise good judgment6)Exhibit professional behavior and mannerisms.