By Dave McKeown
March 15, 2023
We’re coming to the end of Q1, and whether or not you’ve stuck to those lofty strategic priorities for the quarter, you’re likely back in the weeds, fighting the day-to-day emergencies, and solving the next crisis that pings on your phone.
Your team has a problem, you tell them the answer. Somebody screws up, you fix it. Someone’s not pulling their weight, you take up the slack. All in the name of speed and efficiency.
Don’t get me wrong; those acts of heroism are fodder for the ego. They make you feel wanted, needed, useful, and valuable.
But over time, they build learned helplessness in your team until eventually they stop thinking and doing things for themselves.
And let’s be honest; being the hero for your team is exhausting. All those diving catches, the extra work, the stress, the burnout.
The more you lead through heroism, the deeper their learned helplessness, and the more you need to take on until something cracks or breaks.
You’re caught in a cycle of mediocrity. You’re not doing bad work per se, but it’s not your best.
As you think about the rest of the year, I hope you can move away from this negative pattern toward a cycle of excellence where you’re able to spend more time thinking about those areas to which you add the most value, the long-term direction of your team, and the development of your people.
Here are three things you can do to make that happen.
Adopt a New Mantra
The first thing to do is to make the conscious choice to move away from heroic leadership towards excellence. Like all good behavior changes, it starts with a new mantra.
“My focus is to help those on my team achieve our shared goals and, in doing so, become the best version of themselves.”
There’s no room for heroic leadership in this mindset. Instead, it forces you to consider how your team can grow and develop as they solve their own challenges and overcome their own obstacles.
Take the Time to Push Your Team for Solutions
“What do you think?” is one of the most powerful leadership questions you can ask when someone brings you a challenge. It puts the onus back on the question bringer to think through the answer or solution themselves rather than relying on you.
You’ll likely have some thoughts or perspectives on the issue, and at some point, you may need to share those. The longer you can wait for your team members to come to their own conclusions, the better. They’ll learn more, feel better about the decision, and be empowered to move to implementation.
Back Your People to Succeed
Finally, you have to act as if your people will succeed. Too many leaders put backstops in place to prevent failure, like bumpers on a bowling lane. Doing so reduces empowerment and provides limited opportunities for your people to learn.
Treat them as if they have the skillset, experience, and knowledge to put into place what you just agreed on, and provide support, advice, and guidance along the way to help them do so. Resist the urge to be a ‘helicopter leader,’ constantly hovering over them, ensuring they never fail.
Do these three things, and you’ll find your team taking more ownership of their problems and challenges, and you’ll have the headspace to think more creatively and strategically.
Dave McKeown is a leadership speaker, consultant, and the author of The Self-Evolved Leader – Elevate Your Focus and Develop Your People in a World That Refuses to Slow Down.
His signature keynote and workshop, The Leader’s Horizon, helps leaders achieve the extraordinary by elevating their focus and aligning their teams.
He has shared his leadership strategies at the Inc. 500 and Growco conferences for Bank of America, the British Government, Entrepreneur’s Organization, Bamboo HR, and countless others. He has worked with leaders at some of the world’s most innovative organizations, including Apple, Google, Salesforce, FedEx, Spectrum Health, and Renewal by Andersen.
He is the host of the podcast ‘Lead Like You Give a Damn’ and writes a leadership column for Inc.Com. Learn more about Dave and his work at davemckeown.com.
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Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.