Leaders create leaders

The problem with leader-follower

It's very tempting in a leadership position to put yourself in front of the team, become the key decision maker, the linchpin, and make yourself look and feel important. When this strategy becomes successful, two things tend to happen. Positive reinforcement means that most leaders will continue down this path and believe that this indeed is their job and the only way to do it successfully. Secondly it becomes the expectation of the team and the organisation too that this is your role. This is problematic and dangerous for the team and youself. For team members work becomes task-based, never truly understanding the intent, the direction they're headed or the "why". People will look to you for next steps and you become nothing but a decision maker. The problem here is not only that you become inefficient or unproductive. Far greater is that you don't empower the team, allow them to progress themselves and succeed, feel a sense of ownership and accountability and most importantly understand their role in the team and the organisation.

Leadership is a choice

Leadership is not a role, nor is it a rank. From your most junior to most senior in your team and organisation it's important to grow and instill leadership and decision making. You do that by expressing intent. David Marquet, the famous US Navy Captain writes about the importance of intent in his book "Turn The Ship Around!: A True Story of Building Leaders by Breaking the Rules.". Captain Marquet took over the poor performing USS Sante Fe and soon realised the dangers of a culture of followers when he could give impossible orders and the crew would always follow them. He set about to change this and shifted the authority over time to his crew members. The Sante Fe went from the worst performing vessel in the US Navy to being awarded the highest inspection grade ever seen. Captain Marquet notes there are 2 pillars of control; compentence and clarity. Clarity is the "why", the intent and the goals. Competence is the ability to make these technical decisions.

From spotlight to floodlight

This doesn't mean that as a leader you aren't involved, or that you're completely hands off. Decentralising decision making is about shifting authority, motivating and empowering people and the benefits in morale and efficiency that comes with this. Most companies don't do this. The reason they don't do this is because they perceive it to be the foundations of chaos. When people are given the freedom to make decisions without trusted authority then there is surely the potential, and indeed it's more likely, that we will pull in different directions. Your job as a leader is to ensure the intent is there. The intent gives people the direction. Furthermore it means the person doing the job, who is best placed to make the decision and who has the most information is able to make better decisions than a top-down approach. It creates an environment of thinking and problem solving and where the spotlight is on the team and not just yourself.

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Author

Ryan Tomlinson

Director of Engineering, hobby photographer and tech blogger