Know when to hold back

There’s one thing I observe in successful leaders, they know how to find the balance between support and stretch for their teams. They know how to allow their team to feel the discomfort of challenge and adversity, but also when to step in and provide coaching, guidance and support.

Most learning happens in the more challenging moments, we need to understand how to navigate and find a way through. We will all have encountered moments when we have felt out of our depth, when the task at hand was impossible, unmanageable or immovable. And we will all have experienced moments when we have proved those emotions to be wrong.

At the same time, we will have had times when a quiet coaching word, a piece of advice, some guidance or counsel has helped us unlock the answer to a situation we were struggling to face into.  The moments we look back on and reflect on a guiding hand and influence.

Neither is right or wrong. This is an also-and, not a either-or. A successful leader can observe, take time and intervene at the appropriate moment. They don’t need to molly-coddle, interfere, undermine or distract. Neither do they need to leave others to struggle and fail through lack of guidance and direction.

The skill of leadership is situational awareness, emotional intelligence and a willingness to hold back long enough to observe whether intervention is needed or required. As anyone who has ever learnt to ride a bike will tell you, the person with the most fear is not the child without stabilisers, but the parent that pushes them, wobbling, on their way.

Sometimes people will fail

Here’s a thing; Not everyone can be successful in their job.

And that’s ok.

There are multiple reasons why failure happens, it can be the role, the requirements, the skills, the culture of the organisation, the leadership and management or just dumb luck. But we need to be ok with the fact that failure in role is real and normal. It is an inevitable factor of multiple people coming together to deliver an outcome or result.

I’ve worked in organisations with hire and fire cultures, they normally have little to do with performance and are more about dominant personalities, prejudice and conformity. Those that aren’t seen to “fit in” are rapidly shown the door, normally with some reference to, “not cutting it” or some other imprecise statement.

I’ve also worked in organisations where individual, persistent failure is normalised and accepted for far too long until a moment of  “truth” that often leads to a bloody and ugly end. Polite organisations which will tell individuals one thing, then moan to anyone who will listen behind their back.

Failure and underperformance can be the result of the individual or the organisation, it really doesn’t matter. The point is that it happens and dealing with it at the earliest possible moment is the best thing for all of the parties concerned. Nobody wants to come to work thinking that they’re doing a good job, but failing to meet requirements. Nobody wants to work with someone who is under delivering or performing. And nobody wants to manage or lead someone who simply doesn’t deliver.

Recognising and accepting failure is an important part of being able to deal with it in a mature, supportive and grown up way. When we avoid it, fail to recognise or accept it, we tend to want to make it disappear as quickly as possible – that’s why you have the cultures I’ve described above. Instead, what if we were to embrace it, to discuss it and to approach it as a natural facet of our human existence? How would that change the working live of the people in the organisations in which we exist?

When is your leadership rehearsal?

If you play an instrument, dance or play a sport you’ll understand the importance of rehearsal and practice. The essence of producing the required performance at the time that matters is based on preparation and investment.

Yet how often do you spend rehearsing your performance as a leader? It is a curious peculiarity of leadership and management that are we expected to be always on and yet always perform.

Imagine a football player only ever having game time, or a musician always being on stage. Common sense and experience tells us that in these circumstances they’re unlikely to improve the quality of their delivery. Sure they might have natural talent or ability, but what is the likelihood they’d progress?

Even those at the top of their games spend time to practice, analyse and focus on improvement. Daily.

The natural rhythm of business life is counterproductive to the concept of leadership rehearsal. We move from one meeting to the next, from one decision to another. Rarely stopping to pause or reflect. And even at the end of the day, the structure of modern life is such that the emails, the papers and presentations continue.

The lucky few might find have a coach that they can spend time with and create a space for important focus and reflection, but what about the rest of us, what can we do?

Rehearsal is a mindset, it is about wanting to improve, deliver and perform. It is about being curious about the elements of your personal leadership performance that could or should be done better. What do you want to improve?

Rehearsal is about buying yourself time. It is about identifying the important moments in your day or week and ensuring that you’re prepared – not just intellectually, but behaviourally and emotionally. How do you want to be?

Rehearsal is about analysis. It is about reviewing and reflecting and seeking to understand the elements that went well and not so well. How did you do?

Rehearsal is about learning. It is about seeking out different sources of information, watching others, reading, seeking out inspiration and provocation. What could you learn?

The secret of performing, isn’t much of a secret – it is simply about practice and rehearsal. That applies to leadership as much as anything else. When is your leadership rehearsal?

The end of the manager

Are we seeing the end of the manager? As a specific purpose, as a power?

Have we seen a shift in balance?

Are we seeing people accepting HR management as a profession, not just a skill?

How many times have you heard, “the business won’t like”, or “the business won’t accept”?

Who is the expert? The manager?

Not any more, perhaps.

Management is not a profession, management is not a calling. Management is a hierarchical concept.

An imperfect one.

We need managers, we need management.

But should we be beholden to them?

More and more organisations are realising that you need to bring more to the table than seniority. Clearly they don’t think so.