I’m all for collaboration, partnership, and servant leadership and I’m also for leaders using their experience and authority to take charge. Balance, as usual, is the key to everyone’s success.
People like to depend upon themselves and prefer autonomous work. Occasional collaboration and team projects are one thing but don’t try to micro-manage them. It’s great when people feel trusted and empowered but just as we try to fill awkward silences, humans will attempt to fill perceived leadership gaps. When leaders don’t use their power to facilitate collaboration, they’ll often have a strong team member step into that role. It’s great to have strong people on your team but too much autonomy is the enemy of consistent, cohesive performance. When a person other than the manager has too much authority, there’s confusion about who’s really the decision-maker. I’m not saying teams can’t have a few leaders but everyone needs to clearly know where the buck stops.
When you realize you’ve created a wild west situation, reign it in. The first step is to have regular 1:1 meetings with your team. Weekly may be the best option for the first 30-60 days and then you can move to less frequently but don’t eliminate them. The goal is to reintroduce your presence and leadership while creating a space for trust and open conversation. It’s important to have an agenda which you can set or ask each person to set in advance. Always save a place for sharing victories-I like to begin with these-and make most of the conversation about the state of the employee’s world. Ask questions to see where you can help or encourage collaboration. This meeting should not be a status update; those can be done in a weekly email. Keep these consistent!
Leaders often hide in plain site meaning they are present and accessible but aren’t doing much beyond that. They use excuses like having an experienced team or having a full plate or just wanting to get things done to justify why they are doing many things except for truly leading. Managing people isn’t comfortable much of the time. Leaders face competing ideas and priorities, strong and shy personalities, and a diverse team in all ways. Retreating isn’t helpful. Your team expects you to lead and when you hide it creates chaos and unnecessary challenges. We all want to default to our comfort zones even if they’re full of unproductive patterns and negativity. It takes focused effort, patience, and consistency to get your team in balance and keep it there but it’s well worth the effort to facilitate success and well-being.