Category Archives: delegation

Career Tacking


Whenever you move up to a new level of leadership, you will need to make adjustments.  The change you go through is similar to a skill used in sailing.  It’s typically not possible to sail directly to your goal in a straight line.  You have to sail in the direction the wind pushes you and change directions at strategic moments to move closer and closer to your final destination.  In effect, you surrender the wind that was carrying you in one direction and exchange it for a new wind that will carry you in a different one.  You end up making a zig-zag pattern across the body of water.  The skill is called “tacking,” and it requires a keen eye and knowledge of wind and water patterns.

Likewise in your career, it won’t be possible for you to reach your ultimate goal without making some strategic tacks.  But instead of exchanging one wind for another, you’ll be exchanging skills.  Old skills that made you effective in your previous role have to be surrendered for new, more effective skills.  Even though your old skills might carry you for awhile and help you to experience success, they will eventually carry you away from your ultimate goal.

The skills that you learned as an individual producer won’t get you very far when you start to manage others.  Those are the skills of the expert.  You need new skills – skills for leading people.  The old skills will only serve to make you a “micro-manager” and a “control freak” as you attempt to stay personally invested in everything your people do.

Then, as you move from leading individual producers to leading leaders, the winds change again.  Now you need a skill set that includes the ability to grow your leaders, to help them move away from being the expert.  You need the strategic focus to give your leaders a common vision behind which they can rally their teams.

And as you move from leading leaders to leading organizations, the winds change once more.  Your will need to focus less on getting things done through others as your leaders become more and more competent.  Instead, you will need to develop a global view of your organization that has a clear perspective on its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

As you progress through your career, you will find that the wind changes direction many times.  Each time, you will be challenged to do less of what you are good at and do more of what is out of your comfort zone.  Along the way, you are likely to pass many who aren’t going anywhere in their careers due to their inability to recognize when to tack.  They mistakenly thought that their old skills would work in their new roles.  They tried to continue toward their goal without being willing to change.  Don’t follow their example, or you might find your career dead in the water.

 

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Filed under Challenges, Change, coaching, comfort zone, delegation, determination, leadership, performance, sacrifice, success

Do What You Do Best


A colleague once asked Albert Einstein for his telephone number and was surprised to see Einstein reach for the phone directory.  “You don’t remember your own number?” the man asked.  To which Einstein replied, “Why should I memorize something I can so easily get from a book?”

Einstein may owe some of his genius to his ability to prioritize.  While he certainly had the capacity to memorize large amounts of trivia, he knew that this wasn’t the best use of his talents.  He reserved his brain power for solving complex problems and used other resources to help him with the less complex.

I’ve found that great managers do the same with their time.  While they are certainly capable of making copies, shuffling paper or solving routine problems, they recognize these tasks for the traps that they are.  Less-discriminating managers become entangled in a web of administrivia and find that they have no time left to work on more important priorities. Often in an attempt to appear like a “team player” to their direct reports, these managers waste their hard-earned experience, knowledge and training on tasks that could be handled more effectively (and less expensively) at a lower level.

Don’t sell what you’ve worked so hard to gain so cheaply.  The most effective are not always the most popular, but they spend their time like they spend their money – where it will bring them the greatest return on their investment.

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Filed under creativity, delegation, expertise, leadership, management, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Productivity

The Competence Cycle


As team members learn how to do new tasks, they will go through four predictable stages related to their confidence and competence.  The leader’s role is to help them progress through the four stages without damaging their self-confidence or causing too much risk to the team or organization.

Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence At this stage, the performer has little concept of what the task is actually going to entail.  She is incredibly excited about it and feels enormous confidence that she is up to the task.  The problem is that this confidence is rarely based on reality.  The confidence comes from ignorance of the skills, knowledge and hard work necessary to complete the task.  Often, performers feel that success in previous endeavors will guarantee success in this one.  Sometimes they are right, but most often they are not.  The leader should be very specific with a performer at this stage.  It’s important to tell her exactly what, when, where and how a task should be done.  Make expectations crystal clear, and supervise progress closely. Think about the last time you took up a new sport.  I’ll use golf as an example.  You watched it on TV, saw the pros do their thing and thought, “Hey, I can do that!  How hard could it be to hit a ball with a stick?”  So, you go out to a golf course and mortgage your house to play 18.  (You didn’t know it was going to be so expensive!)  You head to the first hole and watch the party in front of you.  Looks easy enough.  Your turn.  You set your tee, work a little bit to get the ball to balance on top of it, and then you take a swing!  You strain your eyes to see your first hole-in-one.  Wow!  Those balls are really hard to see…oh… wait.  No, they’re not.  They show up nicely against the green color of the grass.  You take another swing… and another… and another… This is getting embarrassing.  The party behind you is starting to laugh… and then complain.  Now they are getting hostile.  You’ve just entered… Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence This stage is typically a huge letdown for performers.  The high expectations they had have not materialized.  The task is harder, bigger, less glamorous, more work, more expensive…you name it.  They’ve made a big step, though.  Just recognizing that they don’t have the skill set or knowledge for the task is the first step toward getting them.  Now they know what they don’t know.  As long as the performer doesn’t regress to Stage 1 (i.e., go into denial about the skills and knowledge they need), you’ve got them right where you want them.  Now that they know they won’t be the next prodigy, they will typically be much more teachable.  What they need from you is encouragement.  Their confidence has been dealt a blow, and they need to know that this is a normal stage…that all experts were once beginners.  Keep the end result in front of them to motivate them through this stage. Now that you know you aren’t Tiger Woods, you have a few choices.  You can give up – golf must be a hereditary skill that you didn’t get in your gene pool.  Or you can keep plugging (divots, that is).  Get a coach, head to the driving range, practice, practice, practice…  With time, instruction and practice, you’ll reach… Stage 3 – Conscious Competence Progress has been made.  The performer has developed the competence to be able to perform the task.  The problem here is that the performer has to really concentrate on the steps to get it done.  He will typically be hesitant and afraid of making mistakes.  He might over-think the process, leading to avoidable errors and frustration.  Your role as the leader will be to be patient and allow him plenty of practice.  He may need a pep talk from time to time to remind him of how far he has come.  If the performer starts making too many mistakes in a row, his confidence could be seriously damaged.  If you start to see signs of demoralization, give him a break so that he can get his mind off all the steps.  When he relaxes, he will perform better. You are now a golfer, but you’re not enjoying it much.  It takes too much thinking.  Eyes on the ball, legs apart, knees bent, eyes on the ball, pull back, eyes on the ball, elbow straight, eyes on the ball, swing, eyes on the ball, WHACK!  You thought golf was supposed to be fun.  Be patient.  Before you know it, you will cross over to… Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence Eureka!  You’ll rarely recognize the transition from Stage 3 to Stage 4 when it happens, but you’ll be able to see it in retrospect.  One day, you’ll observe the performer, and she will be performing the task without even thinking about it.  Be sure to point it out to her, because she will probably be the last to know.  The beauty of this stage is that the new skills and knowledge have been integrated into the performer’s skill set.  She is now the expert that she originally set out to be! When did it happen?  Who knows?  Overnight, you stopped having to think so much about what you were doing.  Now, you can’t wait to get on the greens.  Everybody wants you to join their group for the upcoming tournament.  Tiger called and asked you for some advice. The Competence Cycle is universal.  All experts were once beginners  – even the Tiger Woods of the world.  While some have natural ability, disciplining it to make it work for them is still a learning process.  Use the Competence Cycle to diagnose your performers.  Then, meet them where they are at to help them move to the next level.

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Filed under Challenges, Change, coaching, comfort zone, commitment, delegation, discipleship, failure, Fathering, feedback, growth, leadership, learning, management, mentoring, motivation, parenting, performance, Persistence, Productivity, Teaching

Full of Riches But No Life In It


In Israel, there are two major bodies of water: the Sea of Galilee (a.k.a. the Kinneret) and the Dead Sea (though both are really lakes).  Although they are in the same country and connected by a common river (the Jordan), the two couldn’t be more different.  The Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River and teaming with life.  It contains 27 species of fish, some found nowhere else in the world.  Its sweet waters serve as the heart of the water supply system for Israel.  It’s shores are lush with vegetation.

The Dead Sea, on the other hand, didn’t get its name for nothing.  There are no fish, no fishermen, no vegetation on its shores…  It’s twice as wide and almost four times as long as the Sea of Galilee, but the Dead Sea is toxic and bitter.  So much so that there is no life in it or around it.

Why?  The Sea of Galilee receives nutrients and water from the Jordan River.  It then empties into the Jordan River, which begins again at the lake’s south end.  The Jordan then takes the nutrients throughout the Jordan River Basin, snaking 200 miles before it reaches the Dead Sea.  But that’s where it all ends.  Nutrients from the Dead Sea stay in the Dead Sea.  It doesn’t share any of its wealth with the valley below it.  Seven million gallons of water evaporate from the lake daily in the hot desert environment, and the water that’s left is so mineral-rich that it can’t support life.  Scientists estimate that it has a mineral concentration between 26% and 35%.

The two bodies of water serve as a good metaphor for a spiritual principle.  When you share your gifts and resources freely, you receive much more in return.  Whatever you jealously clutch and keep for yourself stagnates and eventually chokes the life out of you.

“Sea of Galilee people” have an abundance mentality.  They know that if they give freely, there will always be more coming their way.  They never worry that the supply of blessings will dry up.  “Dead Sea people” have a scarcity mentality.  They fear that sharing their riches will make them poorer.  What they don’t understand is that the only reason they were given the gifts and resources in the first place was so that they would pass them along.

If you want to keep it, share it.

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Filed under Abundance, delegation, generosity, growth, helping, ownership, sacrifice, Scarcity, Service, Serving Others, Sowing and reaping, Spiritual Growth

Pick a Winner


How many superstar athletes do you know of that went on to become great coaches?  Not many, I bet.  It rarely happens, because the skill set that makes the best athletes has very little overlap with the skill set that makes great coaches.  In fact, some of the things you need to be great as an athlete (i.e. a burning desire to be the best) work at cross purposes to what you need to be a great coach (i.e. a burning desire to help others to be the best they can be).

This principle is true on our teams, as well.  The best individual producers are not necessarily the best qualified for leadership.  Yet, because we don’t know how to identify leadership potential, we promote on what we can measure: aptitude in their current role.  This is a simple approach, but it’s often ineffective.  Promoting your top producer to manager may create more problems than it solves.  Achievement-minded people often struggle with leadership, because it requires that they switch their focus from their personal goals to the goals of the team.  The drive that was so necessary in their previous role often causes interpersonal problems with their team members.  Their strength then becomes a weakness.

Achievement-minded people also find it difficult to delegate.  From their viewpoint, no one can do it as well as they can (and they are probably right – they are the superstars, remember).  Besides, much of what they do so well is rooted in talent.  While skills can be taught, talent is part of our genetic code.  Michael Jordan can teach you some of the fundamentals and advanced skills of basketball, but he can’t teach you to be great unless you are already naturally gifted athletically.

Instead of promoting the same type of people over and over and expecting different results, why not try to identify an individual’s talent for leadership?  While this can be challenging considering our team members’ job responsibilities, it isn’t impossible.  As you talk to your team members, keep your antennae out for the following leadership competencies:

  • Leadership in other environments (church, community, trade organizations, family…)
  • Dissatisfaction with the status quo
  • Willingness to take on more responsibility
  • Ability to overcome obstacles to complete a task
  • Respect of his/her peers (not to be read “Liked by his/her peers” – they are not the same thing)
  • Integrity
  • Willingness to give away credit

Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list.  Add competencies of your own to round it out.  If you can’t glean enough information about your team members from observation and interaction, give them an opportunity to lead a project team or task force.  Let them head the next meeting.  Put them in charge of organizing the team off-site.  If all else fails, ask them to give you examples of each competency from their personal experience.  Starting with the right criteria makes all the difference.

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Filed under delegation, leadership, management, mentoring, Promotion, Succession, teambuilding

The Motivation Killer


A group of young boys regularly stopped by an old man’s house on their way home from school.  Whenever the old man was out in the yard, they would insult him mercilessly.  One day, after enduring another round of jeers about how ugly and old and stupid he was, the old man came up with an idea.  He called out to the boys and met them at the sidewalk.

“Boys, this might surprise you, but I find your jokes at my expense quite funny.  In fact, for anyone who comes back tomorrow and insults me, I’ll pay one dollar!”

The boys were surprised but excited about the prospect of making a dollar.  They showed up early the next day and insulted the old man loudly until he came over and gave them their dollar.

“That was great, boys, but I’m afraid I’ll only be able to offer you a quarter for coming by tomorrow.”

A quarter wasn’t a dollar, but it was still enough to impress the young boys.  Faithfully, they came back the next day and dutifully delivered their insults until the old man came over and gave them their quarter.

“Ah, boys, those were the best yet!  Unfortunately, all I can reward you with tomorrow is a penny for your efforts.”

“What?  A stinkin’ penny!  Forget it!”  And the boys never came back again.

This story is funny, but it also teaches an important lesson about human nature.  When we are rewarded for doing something, we often lose the enjoyment that the task originally brought just for doing it.  It’s almost as if we make the decision that “if they have to bribe me to do this, it must not be worth doing.”  In psychology terms, extrinsic rewards (incentives, bonuses, awards, gifts, accolades…) kill intrinsic motivation (enjoyment of the task for its own sake).

In other words, when we say, “do this and you’ll get that,” our focus is shifted off the “this” (the task) and to the “that” (the reward).  It’s a counter-intuitive bait and switch.  The purpose of the reward is to get better performance, right?  But instead, what often happens is that performers see the task as an obstacle to the reward.  Before long, they are taking the quickest route to completion in order to claim their prize.  Unfortunately, the quickest route is rarely the highest quality route.

Could it be that some of our reward systems are sabotaging the improved results they are intended to create?  Don’t be so quick to offer incentives.  Some work is worth doing in and of itself.  Maybe all you need to do is help the performer see and understand the rewards that are already there.

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Filed under buy-in, commitment, delayed gratification, delegation, expectations, Incentives, Instant Gratification, motivation, ownership, Rewards

Your Right-Hand Man


Everyone wants to have a right-hand man (or woman), right?  Someone you trust implicitly.  Someone who will cover for you in a pinch and make decisions just as you would have made them.  Someone you can groom to be your successor when the inevitable promotion opportunities come rolling in.

The expression “right-hand man” (as well as the tradition of seating the guest of honor at the right hand of the host) originated from times when leaders had to worry about assassination on a daily basis.  Before the days of explosives and automatic weapons, the easiest way to assassinate a leader was to have the person sitting to his right grab his sword arm and hang on, rendering him relatively helpless so that others in the room could then kill him.  If you were a leader, it was in your best interest to put the person you most trusted next to your sword arm. Since most people are right-handed, the “right-hand man” came to be synonymous for someone you could trust with your life.

Leadership can be a lonely role.  Having a right-hand man (person) will encourage you when things get rough.  A trusted “second-in-command” can keep an eye on your blind spots and warn you when you’re stepping into dangerous territory.  If you don’t have one, it’s never too late to develop that person (or to look for someone with the right qualities to fill your next open position.)

(Interestingly enough, the word “sinister” originally meant “on the left.”  Maybe that’s where we get the idea of “hold your friends close but your enemies closer.”)

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Filed under character, conflict, deception, delegation, leadership, management, Protection, Relationships, trust