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The Downside of Always Being There

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

Why and How to Get Out of People's Way

"But he will make mistakes and bring our name to disrepute." She said. "That is a risk I am willing to take." I replied.

This was a tense exchange between a senior manager of one of our flagship products and myself as, Group Managing Director.

Her colleague had circumvented her and her Director, and had come directly to me "because you are the one that convinced me to join your team."

His grievance? She kept on hawking over her colleague because she felt he was not ready to take on greater responsibility. He pushed back, letting her know that he was older than her (yeah, he went there), and although newer than her at the company, he also had greater experience in his field.

I trusted his knowledge and skills. And although I knew that her concern was with culture fit, and work ethic, I was willing to take the risk of him taking on greater leadership responsibility. I asked her to stand down and let him be. And when she did, he stepped up in his role.

Today we are talking about The Downside of Always Being There: Why and How to Get Out of People's Way.

1. Undermining

As a leader, when you are always there to give input, correct, and intervene before your people have the opportunity to see their actions through to the end, you undermine their capability to deliver in an area you assigned them to.

This only serves to frustrate and emasculate them, making them feel that you don't trust them to do the job you engaged them for.

There is nothing more empowering than when a leader trusts their people to do what their people are in the relationship to accomplish.

I remember asking for an audience with my supervisor on a World Bank Group engagement. I wanted to run my thought process and decision-making by her to get her input on how I should approach a particular aspect of my work. She listened to me share my perspective and when I asked her for hers, she said, "Modesta, I completely defer to your expertise. That is why we brought you onboard."

This had an incredible effect on me; my shoulders must have squared all the more, and my chest jut out a little bolder as I thought to myself, "You're right! I am an expert. And yes, that is why you brought me on board. Thank you for recognizing that." Then I went my merry expert way to do the things that us experts (which she had just confirmed that I was) do.

Ask yourself: Am I in any way undermining [NAME's] capacity to deliver?

2. Under-developing

The second downside of always being there with your great ideas is it can underdevelop others.

When people know that you, as the leader, are always there, have your preferred way of doing things, and will direct or correct everything they do, they don't bother taking ownership and developing themselves to master their responsibilities. After all, you will only come in and overshadow their input with your superior take on things. So why bother?

This quenches risk-taking, stifles innovation, and under-develops the courage, that everyone needs to start, persevere, and master an undertaking.

Don't get into the trap of thinking that just because your people are positive and enthusiastic (as opposed to negative and deflated) that your tendency to take over isn't stifling their development, because it may be.

Your approach doesn't have to be hostile, or have ill-intent, you can sabotage your people's long-term development by your short-term decisions to swoop in to save the situation "this one time". One time becomes two, becomes three, becomes the norm, becomes crippling.

Ask yourself: Am I taking away [NAME's] opportunity to grow in his/her role?

3. Underutilizing

Not only does the individual suffer when you are always there to weigh in on issues, but so does the team (including you, the leader), and the organization.

This is because the less the person is engaged in, the less of their potential others can access to apply their knowledge, skills, experience, personality, and attitude to the benefit of the whole.

The entire machinery can grind to a halt when people are doing the minimum required in their job description or terms of reference because that is all that is required of them.

Growth can never rise above their minimum effort. Nor will it come by maximizing yours.

As a leader, you will have to choose between trying to control all variables, scenarios, and eventualities by keeping people small, or allowing them to unleash their potential by bringing all of themselves to the service of your common mission.

Ask yourself: Am I engaging my people to their full potential?

4. Underestimating

"A leader helps others to reach their full leadership potential."

- Artika Tyner

As a Talent Acquisition, Development, and Management professional, I have seen too many scenarios where organizations want to have conversations about "what they can do better" after critical, undermined, underdeveloped, underutilized, and underestimated talent have handed in their resignation notices to move on to better opportunities.

You will not know whether someone under your leadership is ready to take on greater responsibility or complexity if you don't trust, equip, and engage them at that level of responsibility and complexity.

This results in people being overlooked for development opportunities, stagnating in the same position and pay, not because of lack of capacity, but because leaders did not give them the opportunity to showcase their potential, and therefore underestimated their readiness to take on more.

Ask yourself: Could there be someone that could be ready for next-level growth and I don't know it?


Dr. Myles Munroe said:

"Leadership success is measured by the success of your successor."

Unless you equip, empower, and engage those that can take over your roles and responsibilities, you will always be shackled to your position and present potential.

The key to achieving your next-level growth and impact lies in how effective you can get out of your people's way to allow them to thrive and in turn, help you lead today.

Don't stunt your development by not being able to rest, take a break, develop yourself, and consider greater opportunities because you won't invest in people you can trust and entrust more.

This is the only way you can in turn explore what else could be in store for you.

Ask yourself: Am I overstaying my tenure because I don't trust that I have the people who can take over, safeguard, and grow my legacy?

The Power of Trust

I didn't finish telling you what happened to the colleague I took a risk on - he rose up to the occasion. The simple act of trusting him made him choose to change his work ethic and presentation to become what we showed him that we believed he already was.

That is the power of showing trust by letting go of, rather than keeping a hold on, those under your leadership influence.

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