Managing And Leading Are Very Different Things
Managing is about maintaining something that already exists, leading is about creating something where it didn’t exist before. Which means… when leading, you can’t know what to do. You have to figure it out as you go.
So here’s the million dollar question: should you listen to your team, your bosses, or yourself?
The trick is knowing who to trust.
The person closest to a problem is the one who can solve it best.
In short, trust yourself, and use the input of others to inform your decisions. Never disregard you own experience and instincts just because someone is senior to you. Even if they have “done it before” – they can’t know what you know.
And remember, you hire people to solve problems. Let them… or fire them… but don’t tell them what to do.
An Excruciating Experience From My Past
Years back, I was lucky enough to be leading a startup of 30 optimistic souls as we pushed into the unknown. This was the second company I was a President for, but the ugly truth is that success had pushed me right back where I felt like a rookie all over again.
As we began taking on investments, my financial partner, the CEO, recruited an all star Board. These people oozed confidence with every word and every one of them managed Billions in assets. With a “B”. They oversaw huge companies. Their resumes read like novels.
Even though I was experienced and knowledgeable in my own right, when they told me their plans for progressing the company, I kept my mouth shut and listened. I was intimidated and convinced myself that the breadth of their experience far outclassed my own.
To make a long painful story short, things went terribly wrong for a long time
It was as if I willingly ignored everything my eyes told me about the road ahead, and just kept driving to someone else’s direction.
It took months of being steamrolled in meetings and the board suggesting that I wasn’t qualified for my role before I was finally able to pull one aside for some straight talk.
What no one had ever told me was that even in a high-power setting like this, my superiors expected me to tell them what the plan was so they could add perspectives I hadn’t considered.
As uncomfortable as it was for me to speak up in defense of my own ideas in those meetings, it was exactly what needed to happen. I had a responsibility to both generate ideas and advocate for them, even if I was questioned – even if others thought they knew better.
The Fine Line
There is a fine line we need to walk when it comes to taking advice, between our instincts and external advice. I failed to walk that line successfully, and it nearly cost me my position at the company.
I should have trusted my own ideas and experience, despite my intimidation and the opinions of the board. But that doesn’t mean I should have ignored them either. Once I understood what they expected of me, our professional relationship flourished.
How Are You Leading Your Teammates?
Set up your teammates for success by doing what the Board didn’t do for me.
Before you decide someone is terrible at their job, consider whether you have given them all they need to excel. Are they aware you want them to inform you how to solve the problem – or are they blindly following your directives?
If you’d like to learn more about the other half of this pairing, the value of expert feedback, check out the companion article The Outside Coach: The One Single Best Way to Keep Your Team on Track.