Leading From the Front

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5 brilliant reasons why leaders should trust their teams and get out the way.

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We’ve learned a lot, these last few months. About ourselves, and our families; about what we define as ‘essential’, and we’ve learned a great deal about our leaders. This crisis has exposed the flaws of many organisations and leaders, highlighting what they don’t do enough of getting out the bloody way and trusting their teams to do the job they are trained to do.

This has been a crisis of scale, safety, and urgency, and so skill and knowledge (rather than opinion and endless chat) have taken precedent. Our nurses, carers, delivery drivers, teachers, and other key workers can do their thing. We have been forced to let them take over, to ensure our survival, and thank God for that.

Amongst all the slightly confused Thursday clapping, many of us have paused to question who drives our economy, who we trust and who we really rely on. And the conclusion is unanimous: it’s leadership on the ground that counts.

The tired belief that leadership rests with the most senior people in an organisation is what’s broken. At &us we’ve known for a while this is a useless approach. This period has pointed to what’s broken in so many organisations — the idea that leadership must start at the top. That a team is there solely to take direction from above. It’s only when real life kicks in and human lives are at stake we realise what a waste of time it is to shuffle papers, or establish an over-analysed blue sky strategic direction. The rules of this time are deep skill, adaptation combined with speed, with a necessary layer of emotional intelligence. How many leaders do you know that match this profile?

When I coach teams I tell them real change starts with small teams cracking the right problems from the ground up, and that extraordinary things happen when you let them breathe. When teams are given freedom they step up, achieve brilliance, solve the toughest of challenges and create the products and services their businesses need. So, here’s five brilliant reasons why leaders should move out the way:

  1. Your team is your ultimate human resource for problem-solving. When disaster strikes you need them to be on the front foot in figuring out solutions. True change won’t happen from the boardroom. Sorry!
  2. An empowered team can spot opportunities for business improvement that you won’t. That should be the case. Let them find the gold and trust them to go after it.
  3. Your team can see risks before they become problematic (or even catastrophic). Proximity to the issues means that they are in a prime position to solve things that leaders miss at one remove.
  4. A well-connected team has more contact points and networks to draw on than a leadership team — the voice of a team is more powerful than a single leader fighting for influence.
  5. To evolve products and services real users need, you need autonomous employees who are interacting constantly with real human beings who buy or use your services. Let the team be the voice of the customer you are serving and guardians of insight.

So where does the leader fit in? Creating the ecosystem and model that supports it. The most memorable leaders are the ones with amazing outputs and happiness scores, not just impressive soundbites on the conference circuit. Whilst it’s the team that are the heartbeat of the change, they can’t survive in isolation. Protect them, and create healthy conditions for it to thrive (time, support, guardianship, resources). This will determine whether it thrives, falters or slows to a halt. Something for us all to think about when we’re clapping the frazzled NHS from our doorsteps.

P.S. It’s OK to ask for help… If you’re a business leader who needs a hand navigating these challenges, give us a shout. We’re happy to chat about how we can help you in the most cost-effective way possible.