Today’s guest post is by Mike Figliuolo, co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results (you can get your copy by clicking here). You can learn more about Mike and the book at the end of the post.
Alan leads a team of highly-intelligent scientists. While most of their time is spent on scientific work, a portion of their roles is administrative. Before Alan took over the team, many of these scientists hadn’t been trained on these responsibilities because their previous leader tended to do all this administrative work himself. Alan fell into that same habit when he took over the team.
During a hectic period, Alan and I spoke about how stressed out he was. “I don’t have enough hours in the day to get all this stuff done.”
When I asked what he was working on, he shared that he was performing these administrative tasks. As I pressed him for an answer as to why he was doing this work instead of making his team members do it, he said “They’ve never been trained on it and they screw it up pretty often. I then have to fix those errors. When they do try to do it, they’re constantly in my office asking me for answers to the problems they need to solve. It’s more efficient for me to do the work myself rather than spend time I don’t have trying to train them on how to do it properly.”
I told him he was causing all the problems.
“Do you know what the problem is, Alan? You’re an enabler. Your behaviors are the root of the problem.” Needless to say he was surprised by my unsympathetic response to his plight. “What’s easier for them Alan – to struggle with the work and suffer through the rework you’ll demand of them or to claim they don’t have the skills and dump the work on your desk instead?”
Alan’s eyes widened with the painful realization of the dynamic he had created. I continued “Here’s another thing to consider – how many hours have you spent doing this work over the last six months? How much time would it take you to train them on these tasks so you didn’t have to spend the time doing them yourself?” He knew he didn’t need to answer my questions.
I offered a final perspective. “I know they’re going to whine when you tell them to do the work. They’re going to give you half-assed results in the hopes you’ll capitulate and do it yourself instead of holding them accountable for doing it again. You have to break this cycle. Short term, it will suck. They won’t like you. You’ll be less efficient because you’ll be correcting more errors and spending more time training them than you would spend if you did the work yourself. Long term, we both know you need to make this shift.”
Alan stepped up to the challenge. When they brought him imperfect work, instead of picking up the black pen to do the work correctly, he reached for the red pen and marked the document up with the corrections he wanted them to make. He set a clear expectation that he would no longer be doing the work – they were only to come to him once they had a finished product. He made extensive correction marks on many deliverables. He listened to a great deal of groaning. He spent many hours teaching them how to do the work instead of doing the work for them.
After his team members concluded he wasn’t going to revert to old habits, they gave in and improved the quality of their work. For them, Alan made it more efficient to do the work right the first time rather than suffer through his red pen and additional hours of instruction on how to do things right.
After making this shift, Alan found he had more time available for working on higher priority projects. He delivered better work, spent more time thinking about strategic issues, and stepped into larger responsibilities which, in turn, advanced his career. His reallocation of his leadership capital enabled this transformation of the team dynamic from dysfunctional to effective.
Do you find you’re an enabler of bad behavior? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
If you want insights into how your behaviors drive your team members’ behaviors and how to lead them more effectively, take our Lead Inside the Box Assessment! It’s free and it’ll give you great insights into how to improve your team’s performance!
- Mike Figliuolo is the co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results and the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. He’s the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC – a leadership development training firm. An Honor Graduate from West Point, he served in the U.S. Army as a combat arms officer. Before founding his own company, he was an assistant professor at Duke University, a consultant at McKinsey & Co., and an executive at Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.