The 3 D’s To Leading People More Successfully
Growing companies are always evolving in their organizational models and the people of the company can be left with their head spinning as new leaders come into place.
Recently, at our company we made massive shifts in roles and responsibilities in order to better prepare for our next stage of growth.
It has me thinking…if I could travel back in time and teach myself about leadership at each stage of my leadership journey, what would I have needed to know?
When I jumped into my career at the age of 23, I jumped right into business ownership. First doing the work, then directing a team, and eventually, delegating huge portions of the company to others and getting out of their way.
This process lead to running a company that generated money with or without me. However, sustaining that company momentum still required leadership, which at times I was able to fulfill, and at times I failed miserably.
Here are my 3 D’s to leading people more successfully.
There is a myth among business builders that the only goal is to build a company that runs completely on its own and just allows you to vacation whenever you want and do whatever you want because you’ve built this passive income stream.
It’s not mythical in the sense that it isn’t possible. Certainly, it’s doable. But it’s a myth in that it is a fulfilling goal. It’s not fulfilling to be truthful. We need to work. We need to be dedicated to a purpose and towards attainment. We need to have meaning in our life. And the only way to achieve that is to actually do work.
I have been to this mythical place of passive paradise. It’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. I found myself losing passion for my business system. I found myself wanting to do other things and start new ventures. I found myself wanting to work rather than play. But what was the most problematic was that the more I stepped away from the business, the more my team felt like they had no leader. Even my leaders felt like they had no leader.
So you have to be a doer. That doesn’t go away. The key is to focus on doing the things that you love doing so that you aren’t stuck with the things that you hate.
A leader can’t just direct people and delegate everything. In John Maxwell’s book, the Five Levels of Leadership, he writes that the 3rd Level of Leadership is that people follow you because of what you do for the company.
You have to work hard. You have to outwork others. You have to set the bar at 120% so that your team will reach for 100%. If you settle for 100%, the hard reality is that the sum of your team will reach for 80. I know, we all want everyone on our team to be completely bought in, and that needs to be the type of character you look for but it doesn’t always happen. So you have to be the one that sets the bar.
As a doer, you have to decide what to do. You have to have enough self-management skill to understand what you’re most effective at, what lights your spark, what to do now and what to do later.
On a daily basis, you will have to decide what needs to be done now.
In general, if a task can be done in less than two minutes do it now. If the task is urgent and important, do it now. Be careful to avoid the things that feel extremely urgent but when you zoom out they aren’t all that important. Think about whether this urgent thing will have a lasting impact or if it’s a squeaky wheel that doesn’t actually impact whether it rolls.
Important things to do now usually have to deal with people. People in an organization matter. Both customers and employees. The more attention you can give to your employees the better they will do at giving attention to your customers. Treat them fairly, pay them well. Do those thing now.
But fair treatment and good pay only serve as a baseline for getting people to stay and do good work. If those things aren’t in place, it won’t work out, but in general people just need enough money so they aren’t constantly worrying about money and they need to be treated fair enough to not harbor any resentments.
It does take emotional intelligence to understand of you are hitting their baseline. But it requires even more EQ to ensure that your team is thriving.
Do listen to their ideas and give them a chance. People need to know they are contributing to something bigger than themselves and that they have their little square stitched into the tapestry.
Do trust them to do their jobs well. People need autonomy and trust. Generally people want to do good work. They don’t like being micromanaged. Over systematization can make for very boring and unfulfilling work. The more autonomy you give a good employee, the more mastery they will seek over their domain. If you do not see a commitment to mastery then you know they may not be a great hire.
Do hold people accountable. Depending on the level of employee you are leading, accountability can be broad or granular. As we’ll discuss in a moment, a new employee with not a lot of experience needs more direction. So how you hold them accountable may be for a more exacting checklist of deliverables, while a more seasoned employee may only need to be held accountable for broader intangibles like “Are the customers happy?” Or “Is revenue up?” A more seasoned employee will be holding themselves accountable for granular detail and will find strict scrutiny over details demeaning.
As a leader you need to know what things to defer and dedicate time toward at a later date. You’ll be caught between meetings and projects for most of your time spent leading. The schedule of a meeter is made up of one hour appointments at inconvenient times as they depend on the schedules of others. This is in direct competition with the schedule of the producer who needs large blocks of time to get things done.
Time blocking helps to manage these two needs. By marking off time on your calendar for projects and keeping certain time blocks available for meetings you can reasonably manage the difficult schedule of a leader.
Some leaders manage their schedules with the help of an assistant who can be the bad guy and tell people you’re unavailable during times that you marked off for projects. Doing this yourself you are very likely to keep pushing your projects down the road to appease the person seeking your attention.
However, an assistant isn’t always necessary. Personally, I have preferred the use of online booking calendars. When a person wants to meet with me, I just send them my calendar link which has predefined availability windows that I make open to whoever wants to meet with me. The booking system checks my Google calendar where I block of times each sprint for working on projects.
Meetings with the most important people in your organization is something you cannot let go of as a leader. You have to make time for people but that can’t come at the expense of developing new programs within the business, that will ultimately better equip people to do their jobs well.
The second D of leadership is to direct. Junior members of your team need direction. It’s extremely difficult to find people who can come in and blaze a new path that leads to the goal. The reason being, that becoming as a new person is just really difficult. At the onset, you don’t really understand the problem your company solves, you don’t know their customer’s needs, you aren’t fully indoctrinated in the team culture or guiding principles. It takes time to get there.
This is why direction is so important. Direction is the step by step process you want a person to take in order to achieve an outcome.
In order to be a good director you have to have developed training processes.
Developing a training process is as simple creating a checklist of things that need to be done.
By taking all of the stuff you do and hold onto in your head and putting it down on paper, you have the first step in the training process down. Too many leaders don’t think to just write this stuff down. The things that make you successful become muscle memory and you don’t always notice all the little details that you do on a daily basis that others won’t know to pick up.
While a simple check list can actually suffice for most cases, if you’re thinking about scalability or efficiency, it’s helpful to take this training to an online format.
A more innovative approach to training is taking place as the cloud reaches maturation. It’s called “just in time” training. The idea is to create a searchable database of knowledge with articles, videos, and exercises that help people learn specific things at the moment they they need them. None of this needs to be a huge production because processes change all the time and you don’t want to be married to strongly to the content that you aren’t able to quickly remake it when necessary.
Moving your training online in these three formats allows you to reach more people and affect them in a way that is more conducive to their learning styles. Written content is helpful for people who learn best by reading. Video helps both the visual and audible learners at once. Exercises make the learning process more tactile and help people who have to go through the motions in order to learn.
If you’re really thinking strategically about this, putting your training documentation online and making it open, can also be good for your marketing efforts because it shows your customers you know what you’re doing and that your people know what you’re doing. And in the case of selling SaaS, having a robust knowledge base will help your customers learn your platform, build on top of your api’s, and be better equipt to resell if you make your product resellable.
Don’t Do That
As a leader you also have to have moments where you draw boundaries for what isn’t acceptable. Some people have a hard time with confrontation because they are worried about coming off as mean. But clarity is kind, and boundaries for what is not acceptable is the kind thing to do.
If you’re worried about how to be direct about what not to do, it may be helpful to think of this entire phase of direction as continual training.
Scouts has a training model that works pretty effectively for teaching little boys and girls how to safely build fires and not burn down a forest and so I like to use it when I am training. It’s call the EDGE Model.
E is for Educate. Your knowledge base should be the primary source of that.
D is for Demonstrate. You want to walk people through the process, showing how it’s done at 120% speed and quality.
G is for Guide. Put the process in their hands and offer critical guidance. Let them know you want micromanage forever. This is just practice for attaining true alignment.
E is for Enable. You’ve trained them, now trust them. Get out of their way. Give them all the tools and autonomy they need to do the job they were born to do.
In the book, The Messy Middle, author and founder of BeHance, Scott Belsky, says that “processes are the secretions of poor alignment.” Meaning that when people are aligned and pointed to the same vision, process becomes not only futile but obsolete. Processes often stand in the way of innovation and too dogmatic of an adherence to old systems can leave your company behind. A company with true alignment will find that projects get done and goals are met because the people are collaborating and moving forward like the motion of a school of fish.
Actually empower your people to update learning documentation when they’ve found a better more efficient way. Be a company of innovators.
Most leaders who struggle to delegate haven’t gone through the second D (direct) in the right way. They are telling people what to do, but they retain all of the information in their head and they never develop a trainable system. They are also stuck doing all the things that should be taken off of their plate.
This is understandable. Sometimes business moves so fast that you don’t have the time to do that brain dump of all the things you do and so what is muscle memory to you and seems so simple, it’s just not that obvious to others.
But in some instances, you won’t get to the point of creating a trainable, repeatable system unless you bring on the people who know how to do that.
I call these people trailblazers. The trailblazers are the ones that forge a new path and help the thru-hikers know what to do.
Side note: Trailblazers and thru-hikers don’t necessarily have a leadership hierarchy. It’s best to think of them more like personality types. Some people operate best when they have to forge a new path. Some operate best when they have a path to follow. Some organizational managers, even at the executive level are trail hikers. In fact, when a company has reached a certain level of maturity, you actually want thru-hikers in operational management and executive roles because they will keep the company from deviating off the path. Trailblazers sometimes fulfill the roles of leadership, especially, when the company is developing something new but trailblazers can also be found at any level. They are the ones that usually speak up to say that “a current process seems dumb and why are we doing it that way?”
The second mistake people make when delegating is that they confuse it with directing. Delegating doesn’t mean you are delegating a list of tasks to complete. That’s direction. Delegating is taking a responsibility that is on your plate and handing it off to someone else and giving them complete control over the process and outcomes and then stepping out of their way.
Don’t let me hold you back
Not everyone is ready for this but it’s easy to know when they are. If they are the kind of person that will show up on day one and start doing more than is asked, then they are probably someone you can delegate to.
You can delegate to a trailblazer or thru-hiker. But the main thing to bare in mind is that they don’t want you to tell them how to do their job. They don’t want you to hold their nose to the grind. They will roll their eyes if you try and if you’re relentless, they will start to resent you.
The best thing to do is to give them the responsibility and then step out of their way.
If you’re wondering how to lead this person or if it sounds like they are worth it, you can’t and they are.
That’s the beauty of having a more senior person on your team. They will be like a miniature company unto themselves and they will get the results because they are aligned with the company vision.
The best way to work with these senior members is to invite them into collaboration. As the organizational leader, in these meetings you will be doing 10 times more listening than talking. You’ll usually begin by asking an opening question related to the problem and then you’ll just listen to these delegates problem solve and come up with the answer. Again, if you are the organizational leader, it’s best to just listen and then speak at the end. Once you start speaking, everyone in the room will assume that this is the way you want it and that you’ve given the final word. The group will leave the meeting feeling unheard and frustrated that their ideas weren’t brought to the table.
I learned this lesson from an organizational leader who did this extremely well. Each week, we would meet together as a large committee. He would have the clerk maintain the agenda, he’d pose a question to the group and then he’d shut his mouth, sometimes offering institutional knowledge of certain boundaries with regards to policy, sometimes offering some experiential insight, but never making a decision until the end of the meeting.
This allowed everyone in the room to have their square stitched in. In private, he was a mentor and a developer of people. But to those with delegated authority, he never directed. It was a great lesson in leadership.
I worked side by side with him. He was a doer and he taught me to be a doer. Even if that meant late night sacrifices to be in the trenches when necessary.
He was a great director and I watched him train and give instruction to everyone who was just developing their skills and expertise.
He was a great delegator. And what made him a great delegator was the humble belief that any of the people he was delegating to could have been the person to be in his position, but for some reason, in that particular season, in that particular time in everyone’s lives, it was he who was wearing the leadership mantle.
Torlando Hakes, is the author of the book Sprint and host of such podcasts as The CTA Podcast, The PaintED Show, and No Trade Secrets. Torlando is open to meeting new friends and building a community of like-minded peers. You can jump on his calendar for a 1–1 anytime for advice, to share networks, for podcast interviews, and for help getting more bookings.
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