I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down with CEOs and heard them vent their frustrations about the inability of their direct reports to make the right decisions quickly. Ironically enough, when I sit down with direct reports they are equally frustrated with the short-handed way their leader delegates objectives with so little information. This then leaves the managers to guess what special sauce the leader is looking for. Unfortunately, I see this dance of incompetency way too often and the amazing part is that both groups claim they are trying to build a culture of trust and results. So how do these good intentions become so utterly disconnected in an attempt to reach desired results? Easy – it is all about the lack of expectations by both parties.
Most leaders I work with confuse expectations with micro-management. In fact, throughout their years of development they have been bombarded with the mantra of, “Delegate more, you can’t do it all”. The funny part is that most leaders have a part of them that thinks they can do it all. But ultimately they realize that to undertake all would not be efficient and would seriously limit the growth of the business. So what’s a leader to do? They delegate. Easy. Simple, right? Or, then again, maybe not.
The problem that so many leaders encounter when delegating is that they assign responsibilities/tasks based on how they wished their previous bosses had delegated to them. That is to say, with as little guidance as possible!! In other words, they are basically saying, “Just let me do my job my way and we will all be happy!” (And I’m serious when I tell you that this is a direct quote). What these unique CEOs don’t recognize is that their thinking process not only catapulted them to the top, but also differentiated their problem solving capabilities from others. I call it the Sixth Sense of business, but instead of seeing old, dead executives of years past they see business issues and potential solutions before others have had their first cup of coffee. Once this awareness becomes conscious and active thought, these leaders realize that they have expectations that go beyond the normal objectives. When executives take the time to explain these expectations, their direct reports not only have a clear idea of the desired outcome but they also have fresh insights that were not previously possible and that lead to the best solutions. This sharing of expectations accelerates results and helps to speed up further conversations and solutions as the team starts to incorporate the sixth sense thinking process on their own.
Peter Drucker stated, “Checking the results of a decision against its expectations shows executives what their strengths are, where they need to improve, and where they lack knowledge or information.” Not only does sharing expectations drive results faster, but it also develops a mentoring process between a leader and their directs, fostering better teamwork and an aligned culture.
So what do you do when you are the one on the receiving end of short-handed delegation? (Because clearly history has shown you that there is more to this request than meets the eye.) Well, you can gut it out again, nod your head, and pretend like you really do see all of those solutions floating in the hallways. But you and I both know the results will be predictable and neither you, nor your boss will be happy which ultimately only stands to make the business suffer. Interestingly enough, acting like you understand is the preferred reaction to those reporting to “Insert Almost Any Leader Name Here” but it is the wrong decision and you know it. Don’t let your ego override your intelligence in this situation. Remind yourself that this is not a competition between you and your boss; it is a collaborative effort to find the best solution for success.
So how do you get this gold dust of a thinking process from your boss to fall on your shoulders? By asking questions about how they look at the problem and how this problem threatens the stated strategy. You see, by gaining insight on how your leader views the problem, you achieve a greater level of clarity on how they view success. Once there is agreement on the issue and transparency on the stated strategy, then the solution becomes obvious. Far too often I work with folks who hesitate to ask questions out of fear that their boss will think less of them. Reality check readers: the more clarity you gain, the better chance you have of meeting the full expectations of your business leader, thus improving results. Everyone has a process or a mind map they use to find solutions to problems and your business leader is no different. So once you understand your leader’s thinking process, you can then put yourself in a position to be the proactive one solving the problems in the business. And let me tell you friend, proactive problem solving impresses every business leader.
My goal for this blog has always been two-fold. First, I have the opportunity to share my insights and years of experience with you, the reader. And second, I myself get to hear your thoughts, opinions, experiences, etc. To make this blog a mutually beneficial experience, I would ask that you take the time to post your comments, your questions and your own war stories from your years in the business. Let’s use this blog to generate dialogue on the issues we’ve all faced in our businesses and work together to come to some great solutions.