Leadership, not Management

Is there a tug of war to get your team to do what you need done?

When was the last time you had a new idea and spent most of your time ‘selling’ it to your direct reports? Or worse, monitoring to insure they do what they committed to doing?

How do you spend your time? Do you feel you spend 80% of your time with personnel issues instead of getting product out the door or landing that big sale? And how is turnover? A bit high? We know how expensive that is. Most managers spend a lot of time on personnel issues. Leaders, don’t. Leadership skills are not taught in schools and most managers eschew the very mention of coaching or mentoring. But leaders, rather than managers, at the folks who save the company money, make it a great place to work, and rise to the top of the management ladder.

Frequent complaints professional employees make and in fact, reasons they change jobs are:

  1. I don’t feel appreciated
  2. My ideas are not acknowledged,
  3. I have no say in what I do.

Here’s what leaders do: Abandon the idea you are responsible for the solution to every challenge. Let the team be the hero. Sure, you get the final vote, but if you are committed to a quality outcome, let your team participate in the decisions. When it’s their own, they have vested interest in a successful outcome.

Second Step. Approach all challenges from the standpoint of solutions, not problems. Teach your team a new vocabulary. Use this approach as you instruct them. Get the direct reports on board with reminders that stating the obvious isn’t a conversation starter. Have them tell you a solution, even if it isn’t a viable one; it starts the conversation and it changes the content from negative to positive: Here’s the situation and here’s what I propose to fix it.

A simple solution. Engage your employees in the decisions and the outcomes. This works with six year olds and even engineering teams. Sure, you read about it all the time, but how do you do it?

Ask, don’t tell. Next time you have a new project or a crisis to handle, try this.

  • Here’s where we are now.
  • Here’s the outcome we need.
  • Here’s the obstacles and resources.
  • Let’s see if we can come up with the best way to meet the deadline.

Eli Israel, Sr. Director of Product Development adds the important codicil,

  • “What could we do to ensure that we don’t have this problem again?”

Then listen.

Take notes on the white board. People like to see their ideas in print. Have someone take notes on the meeting and circulate it to the team immediately after.

Ask follow-on questions.

  • “How do you see that playing out?”
  • “What affect will that have on xxx?”
  • “What other teams will be affected?”
  • “What is the long term result?”
  • “How can we test that?”
  • “How do you see that fitting with our current xxx?”

Sounds easy, right? Well, it’s not. We are so used to telling people what needs to be done and even how to do it, it is hard to allow them to participate in decisions. Even if we have mastered the art of engaging our people in solutions, when a crisis hits, we are bound to revert. And it is during those crisis’ that we most need their full cooperation.

Here’s the secret sauce. When you want cooperation, ask for it. Roger uncovered a backlog of old bugs in the main code; bugs no one wanted to fix because everyone wanted to work on the newest project. But the bugs needed attention.

He asked the team how they thought the backlog could be handled by the release deadline. The solution they came up with was inventive and encouraged all to participate to the fullest. They broke up into bug-fix teams and competed to see who could do the most the fastest using only after-hours time. The bugs backlog was gone within six weeks and the winning team won a certificate, half-day off, Starbucks coupons and lots of acknowledgement, plus bragging rights and review comments.

The beauty of the solution is it was better than anything Roger could have come up with. And he didn’t have to endure all the complaints. Instead, when he walked around, the team members bragged to him about their progress. Now, that’s morale boosting.


Mark inherited the department with the worst turnover in the corporation. Within 18 months his group had only 1% unwanted turnover and all of those people were pirated by other divisions. How did he do it? He listened, engaged and worked with his team to confront all challenges with solutions. He saved time and money by engaging his people rather than replacing personnel, fixing failing morale and monitoring progress.

Discover the details about Mark’s solutions to the turnover in his group. Return to this blog (or subscribe). ┬áIt’s a good story and one from which any manager can pick up a few pointers.

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