Are You Pushing Your Team Hard Enough?
Leaders often struggle with the dance of when to apply pressure to teams to ensure great work, and conversely, when they should pull back in order to foster room for autonomy and growth. In an effort to strike this balance, leaders can give their teams – and themselves – whiplash. One minute the leader is in the weeds, micromanaging each step. Then they turn around and don’t want to be bothered with the details, and expect the team to handle things.
Some leaders gravitate toward one style or the other – they primarily push people or they believe in pulling back to be more hands off.
By definition, push leaders are directive; they tell people what they want and when they want it. Pull leaders are more collaborative; they work with others and let them do the job in their own way.
In reality, there’s no clear dichotomy – you don’t have to be one or the other. Most leaders would say they don’t want to get mired in the details, but they don’t feel that they have a choice when the pressure is on. The key is to use either style strategically – knowing when to push to get the job done, and when to pull back to provide your employees with the space they need to step up.
So what is the right touch for leaders, and how can they find it? The following are some considerations for leaders debating when to push and when to pull back.
Is work quality suffering, such that you need to have a better grasp on performance?
When work quality isn’t meeting benchmarks, getting more involved may help to diagnose and fix the problem. If your company has grown fast, or your team has lost its edge, you may need to get more directive to establish the way forward.
Certainly as well, if you are new leader to a team you need to push to set a tone and get a handle on the work product. Work closely with your team members to hone in on problem areas. Re-tune and refine work processes. Once you get your machine back in working order, you can return some of the autonomy back to your team.
Has the team developed a habit of letting you do the heavy lifting?
On the other hand, if your team has grown accustomed to you being the one controlling every project, they may feel like they can just sit back and let you deal with the tough problems. This means that you need to pull back and reset the balance, and spread accountabilities around.
When making this transition, do so slowly and deliberately, so team members don’t feel suddenly overwhelmed with new projects and tasks. Make it clear you want to offer up more responsibilities to others and give them room to stretch their wings. Express this as a positive development, not a punishment, as you will be offering more autonomy and creative freedom.
Are people actively growing?
Any leader should be constantly assessing the growth opportunities of their talent. If you’re doing all the big thinking work, you’re hindering their potential.
For people to grow they need to stretch their creative abilities, try new things, and feel supported to take risks. In a small company or a static functional team, this can be a challenge. However, it’s up to the leader to figure it out, and one of the best ways to help others to grow is to allow them to tackle challenging projects – even if you currently own them.
Are you able to focus on your highest and best use?
Every leader should periodically assess how much of their time is devoted to their own highest and best use. If you’re doing all the work, from arranging every meeting to putting out every fire, you are probably wasting energy on some tasks that could be delegated. I often use the 80% rule with my clients: can someone else do this 80% as well as you? If they can, you should delegate it.
A leader’s time is their most precious resource, and it’s limited. By pulling back to delegate tasks, you provide growth opportunities for others and free yourself up for your own development. While you may want to leave your mark on the work, determine if it’s absolutely necessary. During these times, it’s best to remind yourself: don’t I have something more critical to be focusing on?
The Solution? Adaptation
Ultimately, the key is being flexible and adapting your push/pull strategy based on what the situation requires. Hersey and Blanchard created the idea (and model) of situational leadership, whereby the task and relationship with the person dictates the style a leader should use. Rather than figuring out what you’re most comfortable doing, focus on what the situation requires.
It can also go a long way if you explain why you feel a need to swoop in and get more involved, or pull back and create some space. Leaders rarely communicate this, which leaves their teams guessing. All of this is wasted energy and can lead to misunderstandings. And even better, when we explain ourselves, we may even learn whether or not our chosen approach is the right one.
This post also appears on Forbes.com.
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