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Know when to disapper

Nov 30, 2023

If you’re leading a team, sometimes the worst thing you can do is… to lead the team.

Over the last month, there’s been a clear theme running through my work with teams: that their leader is getting in the way of the team's growth. 

  • Getting in the way of the team having the conversations they need to have.
  • Getting in the way of the team coming up with ideas themselves. 
  • Getting in the way of people discovering how to figure stuff out for themselves.
  • Getting in the way of the team taking ownership of the work.

Most of the time, leaders don't mean to get in the way. On the contrary. They’re trying to be useful. Helpful; valuable; “leaderful.”

Heck, I did it myself this week. I stood at the front of the room, flipchart by my side, marker in hand, and asked a senior leadership team for their responses to a question I’d posed about their ways of working. I was poised to help them have a mind blowing conversation. And then…

Silence. A couple of uninspired, low energy comments. More silence.

Suddenly it dawned on me. I needed to get out of the way; I needed to disappear. 

Before we knew it, these leaders were huddled in small groups, having high energy problem-solving conversations that they found their own way into much better than my process could have done.

To get there, they needed to fumble around for a few minutes, trying to work out how to even approach the conversation. From the outside, it looked stilted and awkward - the kind of thing a well-meaning leader (or facilitator!) might jump in to save. But it’s exactly what the group needed, as I sat in my chair over to the side, pretending to not really be listening. 

If I were to make up a statistic here, I would say that 90% of team performance problems are attributable to the leader. (Perhaps more?) In most cases, I’d say this isn’t down to incompetence or neglect, but being ’too competent’. In other words, over-relying on your strengths in a way that ends up disempowering the team.

... I can help them solve this problem.
... I can give them the clarity they need.
... I can remove some of the friction.
... I can help them see things in a better way.

How about this instead... I can set the scene and then let them at it.  

How might you be getting in the way of your team's growth? 



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