Wouldn’t it be nice if your staff could handle things by themselves without asking you to be the final arbiter on every decision? Wouldn’t it be nice if your team could solve problems as they arise, taking more ownership and freeing you up to focus on growing the business? Imagine if they found ways to increase sales, reduce expenses, and preempt problems all on their own. Imagine if they took initiative to explore what markets your company should expand into. Or if they came to you with ideas for breakthrough products. Imagine if they not only participated in the company culture, but also participated in growing the company culture and grooming the next generation of company leaders. Great questions asked by
This isn’t a fantasy. Here are eight concrete ways to make this a reality in your organization by coaching and growing other leaders in your business. These are all simple behaviors, but they’re behaviors that we forget to implement during the day-to-day rush of putting out fires and checking off boxes. These are behaviors that get sacrificed on the altar of “Getting Results“.
But you can’t really get results without them. The more you rush - the more you neglect these eight principles of good leadership - the more brittle your business becomes.
So, take a breath and take the time to implement these eight secrets to effective leadership. You’ll thank yourself later.
1. Ask, Don’t Tell
Team members probably come to you all the time with challenges, problems, and questions. If you’re anything like me, your first - and perfectly natural - inclination is to solve their problems for them. You just give them the answers. You tell them what to do.
In the moment, that feels good because it allows you to move on to the next task on your to-do list. And your team can take immediate action based on your instructions.
But, while you might get immediate results this way, you’re also weakening the potential of your staff to grow into leadership roles. And you’re missing an opportunity to coach them and help them grow into capable business people.
Imagine that an employee, Sally, comes to you with a problem — a particular account was put on hold or she’s hit a speed bump with a key vendor — and she asks, “How do you think I should handle this?”
Well, the natural thing to do would be to just tell her. Solve her problem for her. But I want you to resist that knee-jerk reaction. Instead, say to her, “Well, you tell me. What do you think caused the problem? How do you think we should handle it?”
That way you’re asking instead of telling.
Worst case, Sally will come back to you with a blatantly-wrong answer. But then all you have to do is push back: ask how she got to that answer, point out the pitfalls, and continue to use leading questions to help her find her way to a better strategy.
2. Share the Context
It’s good to delegate when you have too much on your plate. But sometimes, when we’re pressed for time and we ask someone to handle something for us, we forget to give them context. We forget to tell them why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Giving context during the handoff might require more time upfront, but it also arms direct reports with the information they need to make good decisions on your behalf. If you don’t give them context, they’ll be knocking on your door every time something comes up. If you do give them context, you won’t hear from them again until the task is complete.
3. Share Information
Imagine if there was a cheap, delicious food - sweet and richly flavored - that had zero calories and lots of nutritional value. Wouldn’t that be an incredible diet tool?
Well, something like that actually exists for business owners.
When it comes to running a business, one of your responsibilities is to engage your team, motivating them to work by compensating them for their efforts. And, as you’ve surely noticed, compensation can get quite costly. But there’s one currency of compensation that costs nothing - like that delicious, cheap, calorie-free wonder-food. It’s called Information.
Part of compensating your team is making them feel connected to their work and showing them that you respect and believe in them. And sharing information is one of the most powerful ways that you can do that.
So sharing information doesn’t just give your team practical tools to get the job done, it also affirms the value of their work, demonstrates respect and confidence, and makes them feel great about what they do.
4. Share the Credit
When there’s responsibility to be taken, take it for yourself. But when there’s credit to be shared, share it generously.
Our leaders love to talk about themselves. They’re always using personal pronouns - “I” and “Me.”
If you’re going to be an effective business leader, you need to retrain yourself. Cut the personal pronouns out of your vocabulary and start using “We” and “Us” whenever you can.
Now, you should hold on to those personal pronouns for the tough moments: “I made a mistake here,” you might say. Or, “I learned a lesson here.”
But whenever you can share the credit, share it. Say:
“Sharon, you had a great suggestion two days ago and it really paid off.”
“Paul, I want to congratulate you on what you and your team have accomplished,”
“Hey team. A month ago, our numbers were down here. Since then, we’ve seen a 20% improvement. We did a great job on this. I’m proud of us.”
5. Share Decisions
Look for opportunities to hand decision-making power over to your team.
Of course, you should do this gradually, starting with lower-stakes decisions. But, over time, you can ease your team into making high-stakes decisions too.
For instance, if you’re working with a front line manager and she doesn’t have a lot of experience with certain types of decisions, then start her off making decisions in a low-stakes situation. There shouldn’t be room for catastrophic error, but the decisions she makes have to matter. Reel in your safety net. Refuse to save the day - even if you don’t think she’s making the best choices. Let her sink or swim on her own.
With practice, she’s going to start to see the effects that her decisions cause - and she’s going to start to learn from that experience. As she gets better, give her more latitude and the opportunity to make decisions in higher-stakes situations.
As a business coach, I’m a strong believer that people can only learn so much from theory. If you want to help someone grow, you need to challenge them to make real world decisions that have real world consequences.
6. Ask for Help
Next time you’re brainstorming, making a tough decision, or struggling with something, try asking your team for help. Say, “Hey, Samantha, I really value your judgment and I would love to get your perspective on this.”
Well, for one thing, asking for help shows that you’re human. It also establishes that, in your company, it’s ok to ask for help. (If it’s ok for the boss to ask for help, then it’s ok for anyone to ask for help.) That ethos discourages your team from struggling quietly and sweeping concerning developments under the rug. Plus, it fosters a sense of community: asking for help tells the team that this is a company where people support each other.
And, finally, asking for help is another way to give your team affirmation and demonstrate to them that you honor and respect them as people and as business people.
7. Confide and Reveal
When you start asking for help, start confiding and revealing too. Sharing delicate information in confidence demonstrates that you have absolute faith in your team.
And, an essential part of confiding is revealing: tell a direct report about a business struggle you’re working through and how you’re handling it. Combine this with asking for help and you’ve got a recipe for building rewarding, authentic relationships with your team.
8. Coach Along the Way
As you go about your day-to-day, week-to-week business, look for opportunities to pause and coach your team through the task at hand. These quick little investments in your team can help them grow dramatically, both as individuals and as leaders within your company.
To be clear, you don’t have to coach constantly. You shouldn’t be doing a dozen coaching sessions a week. But taking time for three or four of these development moments in a week - maybe one or two that are in depth and two or three that are quicker - can make a huge difference.
And don’t just coach for immediate results here; coach for development. Talk to your team members about their decisions, challenges, and plans. Help them sharpen those ideas and improve the ways that they model their thinking.
By following these eight principles of effective leadership, you can grow beyond simply instructing your team about how they should handle specific tasks. You can help them become more autonomous and more effective, and give them a model for how they can groom more leaders within their departments or divisions of the company. Because good leadership perpetuates good leadership. In time, you’ll find yourself running an owner-independent business.