I promise I'm not mad. Maybe I can restore your faith when I explain that I don't mean the clear your desk, we've all signed a “you'll be missed” card and chipped in for a £10 Pizza Hut voucher kind of redundant. I'm talking about trying to reduce the amount of times my input is required.
Some of those times are easier to identify than others. The easy ones are things like when someone doesn't have permission or access to do something or when your approval is needed. There's plenty of guidance on what we can do in these situations to create more empowered teams - considering whether the action can be completed by the individual themselves or changing top-down approval systems to something like a peer review approval process. Those easy pickings though, whilst valuable and a good step, aren't the focus of this post. What I'm really starting to focus on recently are the more abstract instances.
give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime Unknown
Natural instinct tends to mean we start our leadership careers with the notion that we should be able to provide answers to almost all of our teams problems. Over time, we learn the value of the “teach a man to fish” proverb and transition to a coaching role whereby instead of handing out fish all day, we begin to hand out lessons on fishing. What if, however, we could take this a stage further? What if, this input is hindering the development of the team and is actually creating a culture whereby individuals don't need to think for themselves. I'm not saying this is necessarily a conscious thing, but that perhaps we inadvertently encourage it by creating an environment that means an answer, or at least the means to an answer, is always close by. What if, to stick with the proverb, we instead start to talk about the value of fishing, such that the team will, in time, teach themselves to fish. Sports teams will understand this concept well. They can't go to the coach every time they have a decision to make during the game - all of the training has to be done off pitch, such that in the heat of the moment, the team can make the right choice without intervention.
To put it in more practical terms, whenever I feel the need to interject or guide a decision meeting, I try to suppress that natural instinct and instead make a note to think about what I can do, outside the scope of the meeting, to ensure that in future the desired outcome happens organically. I won't pretend I'm always able to do this, by the way, it's really tough and it takes a real conscious effort but my hope is that, in doing so, I create a more proactive, capable and empowered team.
Sometimes you have to let people sink a little, so that they learn how to swim