Learning By Doing

Tommy trips over a guy lineI was doing some strategic planning with a long-term client last week. They’re doing well, expanding their business in tough times, making the hard decisions about staff, and being leaders. They’re the kind of business I love working with because they run with what they decide. Which has translated into some fantastic cultural and business changes for them in the last year.

We landed priorities for the next quarter, and it came time to assign champions for each one. First pass: the CEO ended up as the champion for all three. So I asked her:

“Are you the best person to do all of these, or are you absolutely the only person that can do these?”

Often the leader is the best person to be accountable for any strategic given initiative. They’ve got the experience, the training, the track record. That’s why they’re the leader. They could do the best job. It doesn’t mean they’re they should.

Mine Mine Mine

I’ve seen this often enough now: the leader takes all the important initiatives, leaving nothing for anybody else to do (strategically leastways). The consequences?

  • They’ve just sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Why aren’t my managers engaged? Because you won’t let them be.
  • They’ve just become the bottleneck, and will often fail at everything instead of giving themselves the chance to be successful at one thing
  • They’ve not focused on the most important thing a CEO has influence over: the values and culture of the business.
  • They’ve lost an opportunity to identify and mentor possible successors

Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, had several very simple principles of developing leadership in young men and women. One of them was:

Learning by Doing

He believed that the best way for young men and women to learn leadership was to lead a small group of their peers. That’s why the patrol system (6-8 boys or girls organized as a small team that do their planning, camping, cooking, etc. together) is so powerful. They can learn all the things they need to in a mostly safe environment, where feedback is immediate and honest, and mistakes are easily forgiven.

The fastest way to squash the enthusiasm of a patrol of Scouts is to start micro-managing them. Adults, especially if they have their own children in the program, get in there and start “fixing” things before they even go wrong. The kids don’t learn anything, the adult becomes over-whelmed and frustrated trying to keep up, and Scouts start drifting away to other troops or even out of the program.

Adults do the same thing. They’re just a little more subtle about it. Sometimes.

So here’s my recommendation:

Delegate Like Crazy

Delegation is hard, because we’re often prone to believe we’re the best person to do any particular task or lead a specific initiative. We might even be right, we are the person that could do that job the best. But we’re not the only one who could.

Stick to the jobs that only you can do, and delegate everything else. It’s a huge opportunity to develop your staff and the culture of your team / division / group / company. Which is your single biggest responsibility (after turning a profit).

You are now the leader of leaders. It doesn’t matter if it’s a snotty twelve-year-old boy who hasn’t changed his underwear in three days, or an executive vice-president. Develop them!

Don’t know how to delegate? Learn. In the age of the internet, business and executive coaching, and self-help books there’s no excuse! Never done it before? Start small and work your way up.

There’s no way to get the most out of your team or get to the top of your profession without delegating. You may be very good at your job, but that’s the only thing you’ll ever be doing if you don’t learn to develop relationships and leadership in the people who work for you.

Learn delegating by doing it.

Question for the Comments: What do you have on your desk or to-do list right now that you could give away, or not even do?

Other Articles You May Be Interested In:
Manager Tools – The Art of Delegation (podcast)
Delegation on Amazon
Why I Suck and Delegating (and Why You Might Too) (blog)

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with RESULTS.com

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