Leadership Boo Boo #2 - Cutting People Off at the Knees



When I was thinking about what Boo Boo Part 2 would be, it was clear as a bell to me. What wasn't clear, however, was how to write it. It's one of those things I think we all experience, and have even done to others and I believe people absolutely despise it. Ouch, that despise word is a strong one. But ouch, it's probably right on the mark. Listen for that bell because...

Boo Boo #2 - Cutting People Off at the Knees

By now you can all see that I love my southern sayings. I'll just bet that this one, though it may be southern (not sure), is clear to everyone everywhere. Cutting someone off at the knees is not surgery, but it sure can feel like it. What I'm talking about here is the tendency in leadership to put people in place to do a job and then make it tough for them to do by circumventing them and doing it yourself. This can be particularly harmful when we have leaders as direct reports. It's easy to get caught up in "I can just get this done in half the time", or how about this little gem, "I just need to get it done the right way." It's not so easy to repair the damage that behavior can do to your team's confidence, growth and development; or how about the confusion it causes for the people around them. Better yet, if they have direct reports, now their own team is unclear about who to follow. Hear that bell yet? You should, it's super clear.

If you believe that one of your, if not THE, primary responsibilities as a leader is to support the growth and development of your team, then effectively overruling them can result in the exact opposite. They end up feeling pretty cruddy, less confident, and even embarrassed. If they themselves have direct reports, now their own team has just become foggy on who is leading them. Do they go to their own supervisor or now jump over their head for answers, direction, etc.? It's a tough spot for a team and an even tougher one for the person in the middle.

I'm not saying following a strict chain of command is always the way, it's not. I'm also not saying that stepping in and getting something done is always wrong. Sometimes people don't do a great job and we have to. Sometimes, the bigger picture needs action that must be taken right then. What I am suggesting though is to be careful in choosing when to roll in, because the end result may not be the one you expect and could cause more problems down the line.

My daughter, who is the most fabulous person in the world (scientifically proven), taught me one of my biggest life and leadership lessons years ago. I raised her as a single mom. I'm a bit of an overachiever (in my own mind) and wanted to do my absolute best. So I tended to do extra-extra more; which really meant I hovered. One day in her fabulousness, she said to me "Mom, when you always fix everything for me, it feels like you don't believe I'm capable." Listen up everyone; you might want to read that last little ditty again. That's some powerful pow-pow in that statement and it's a lesson that changed the way I lead and interact with others. You see, I thought I was stepping in and handling things, showing her how to do it. I thought I was giving her gobs of great examples every day; I thought I was in touch and on top of things, being a great mom by showing her everything I could. Not so much. What I was REALLY doing was not allowing her to learn and grow because to her it felt like I didn't think she could. There's that bell.

Leadership is a lot like that in my opinion. If we constantly step in and push others aside, they (and everyone around them) are getting the message that you don't believe in them. Ultimately, they will quit trying, which is just the opposite of what you want to happen. There's a balance of course. Sometimes people just can't do the job and so that has to be addressed and, well, you have to step in and correct the course of the occasional runaway train. Also, a painful thing to do, but just as important a thing to do, and perhaps a subject deserving of a separate article. Stay tuned.

So, what to do? Start with getting the right people. Then bring clarity to what the results need to be and then let them breathe a little. Give them some space to grow and even stumble (also part of growing, right?). Stay in touch with them; we can't lock ourselves away in our offices and expect an engaged workforce. Remove the rocks in their path when needed. Coach them, help them, be available and approachable and they will naturally come to you keeping you in touch with where things are. And when it's just not working, when someone just isn't capable no matter how much you wish they were, then reevaluate that person and make that decision too.

As in all areas of leadership, there's a balance to find. I'm lucky to work in a place today where that balance and the value of belief in others is appreciated, and it's clear that there's a common thread of connection, communication, and caring. Oh yeah, and trust. We're always building that because we understand how important it is. And it's a biggie. We know that you need to trust your team, but they also need to know that you do. Something wonderful happens when someone knows you believe in them. You guessed it; they start believing in themselves. Interactions with them become coaching and they will receive it openly. Then a beautiful thing happens; they trust you. Ring-a-ling.

p.s. This article is dedicated to my incredible daughter who gave me the greatest lessons ever and continues to teach me still. I am a very proud mom and the president and CEO of her fan club, always. Jess, I love you to the moon and back, and back again, and so on.

Read Leadership Boo Boos - Part 1: Always Right, Never Wrong


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