The parental leadership trap

One of my clients Sanjeev* would regularly complain that he was exhausted by being the referee for his  team.

“I feel like all I do is solve problems that my team have with each other, with the work and with our clients. I get to the end of the day and have to start my day job when everyone else goes home. I’m over it!”

Sanjeev wanted his team to ‘step up’, take some responsibility and ownership. You know there’s not too much difference between how my team behave and how my children behave”, he stated with much annoyance.

Are you leading your team or parenting them? I asked.

In our desire to support, it’s easy to ski the familiar tracks of fix, solve and save. This approach often gets us through the day, however, it won’t get you through the year or help your team members long term in their careers. It feeds the self deception that doing it ourselves is quicker than showing someone else.

Leaders who create leaders invest in the longer road of development. They take time to invest up front, reaping the rewards of growth and sustainable results.

How often have the words “I don’t have time to train someone else” peppered conversations around workload, stress and a good complain and blame session?  

It’s a phrase and attitude that has been with us for centuries and is deeply ingrained in our psyche. The 1541 theologian, Swiss reformer and author Heinrich Bullinger wrote: 

“If thou wilt prospere, then loke to euery thynge thyne owne self.”

Throughout history the phrase keeps emerging, usually quoted and associated with strength. 

“If you want something done well, do it yourself” — Napoléon Bonaparte

And so “do it yourself” has become an enduring belief that takes conscious effort to transform.

Though our work together, Sanjeev noticed his current style of leadership created dependency, which grew to frustration for all and graduated to resentment. The downward spiral continued until Sanjeev changed his leadership approach:

“Once I identified what I could do to help turn things around I felt lighter, less frustrated and more in control. I got more done during my day.”

Sanjeev’s next step was to work with his team to design a new way of working together. Once he unwrapped the cotton wool, let go of some control and provided clear expectations linked to development. The culture shifted and performance lifted.  

I asked Sanjeev to share what stood out for him that helped him move forward:

“Swapping the “update me” meetings with “what can we hack meetings”. This sounds simple, but it made a big difference. My people were a suspicious at first and then it got fun. Lots of great input, creativity and ideas put forward. Being a tech team they loved it. I was so surprised at what we were able to solve together. Now, I’m inspired.

“We talked. I told them I was on a control detox and like any addiction it might take awhile to get clean. I needed their help. I shared what I expected them to stop doing (coming to me whinging about each other, they had to sort out their issues — I put them on a whinging detox) and start doing (bringing solutions, ideas and taking more initiative on work).

“Identifying their gaps. With a large team I never seemed to find time to truly focus on their development needs or mine. This has now become a shared responsibility between me and my team members. What has resulted is more commitment from them to step up and push themselves more which is what I wanted! I now go to my boss and do the same’.”

Changing the culture from one of dependence to shared leadership required dedicated investment up front, changing habits and creating a plan to ensure the new habit sticks.

Need some extra inspiration to change habits? Watch Matt Cutts TED Talk: “Try something new for 30 days” 

Thank you Sanjeev for sharing your experience.  

*Name changed to respect privacy.

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