One of the most predictable responses for leaders when faced with a challenging situation is to begin to start taking on more and more personal responsibility. While sometimes we do this because we lack trust in our followers, often it is a response to a perceived threat. As a leader we decide to “protect” our followers from the stress. I have had dozens of leaders define their role in this manner…as protector of their followers.
There are two problems with this approach. First, there is the debate as to whether or not shielding your followers from the reality around them is actually the job of a leader. We won’t get into that at this moment, but even if it is one of the roles of the leader, is this something you are actually capable of doing? Is it possible to isolate your folks from the challenges around them, or are you simply delaying the inevitable? The second problem with attempting to be a protector is that we inadvertently limit the engagement and involvement of our employees in the crucial issues of the day.
In employee surveys of companies large and small, employees consistently complained that they are not involved enough. What you see as protection, they see as elitism. Only a few of the “chosen” get to be in on the important stuff while the rest of the employees are left to sort things out on their own. And, as you have surely seen in your own leadership career, there are none of us as smart as all of us. Not only do employees want to be involved, but you NEED them to be involved if you are going to truly address the issues that surround you. If a leader is not using her team resources, then she is not really a leader. She may be in a management position, but that can be given to anybody.
The other reason to consider employee involvement is the issue of development. Most organizations are very aware of how much they spend in training and development and are always looking for areas to increase the learning of their employees without adding formalized training sessions. What better place for employee learning than in the actual workplace situation. There is an old Chinese proverb that (roughly) states, “Tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; involve me and I understand.” As a leader, with a primary responsibility to attend to and develop your follower’s skills, involving as many as possible in the day-to-day challenges of your division or department can be a powerful tool for skill-building within the team.
Leaders don’t go it alone. Some of our heroes that we call leaders may have actually been “role models” but without followers, as they say, a leader is a person taking a walk. Look today at what you have on your calendar or to-do list that nobody else on your team has anything to do with. Ask yourself if it has to be that way…really. And remember that your team is not YOU…it’s your team. They want to succeed as much as you do and they want to contribute to that success.