Across my work life, I often find myself in a situation of managing a fairly young team and trying to draw my team out and getting them to step forward to lead. Even when it is in their direct area of responsibility, they often start off as passive and reactive. They are waiting for the "leader" aka the one who is their manager to "lead" and tell them what to do. I often start out by telling them repeatedly to lead and to drive their projects, to no avail. They keep coming back to the leader for decisions big and small and you get pulled into so many things. If you've been in a situation where you sit in meetings and wonder why most if not all of your team members are in every meeting with you, then you know what I am talking about.
Most of my roles have been in leading a regional team that have to deal with counterparts in the field organization in different countries. If its an APJ role, we can be talking about 14 countries. That is a lot of meetings and if people at different levels dont lead, we cannot scale.
The trick is to actively plan for your own exit in their relationship with countries to the point that you are not in the direct conversation but your team members have to update you on progress.
I usually plan deliberately for this exit in the following phases
- Start of as expected and "lead" the meetings. When the team is young, they would benefit from observing how you engage, how you discuss, share and get to decisions with multiple stakeholders
- After a few weeks, I start to have last minute emergencies or meeting clashes where I am often late to a meeting, forcing my team to start engaging with the stakeholders without me. Including times when I dont turn up at all and ask the team for updates on what transpired.
- Eventually I suggest the team that I am going thru a very busy patch and in order not to hold up progress, I suggest they take over and drive the meetings and schedule updates with me with the assurance I will try to turn up if there is something they think I need to deal with.
By the end of the process, I have effectively delegated and empowered them to lead in the areas they are responsible for. They just didnt realized that in the beginning. I like to call this the "From CC to To" approach. Your staff starts off as all these people who are on CC of emails and eventually they swap places with you and become the To recipients while keeping you on the CC.
Telling the staff to step forward to lead didnt work. Multiple and recurring words of encouragement and prodding to step up and step forward didnt work. As long as I was there, they fell back into the line. At some point, I realize the impediment to get them to try to lead was my presence. At least in the beginning. Once they have tasted the satisfaction of leading and being such a contributor to an outcome, they achieve a new normal in how they lead themselves and lead others.
You empower and make fuller use of every headcount you have on the team.
Everyone comes to the team with different experience and strengths, making them good leaders in their own right but just different from one another.
When you can unleash that, the whole team become far more effective.
From a manager's perspective, you have also delivered a form of career development and progress that makes your staff more engaged and motivated and is not tied to monetary renumeration alone.
Not everyone can or wants to lead. It is important to recognize and accept that when making a realistic assessment of each of your staff and your team.