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When it comes to delegating and growing good people, a leader is always faced with a delicate balancing act.

  • One the one hand, if you don't give people some opportunities to take responsibility, they will never grow — and the best and brightest will leave you to find more fertile places to grow.
  • On the other hand, if you give them more responsibility than they're prepared to handle, you are setting them up for failure — and that can have long term effects on their confidence and your trust.

What's a leader to do?

In The Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus, we say that effective leaders need to practice four things in order to help their people develop:

  • Intimacy — the more a leader knows about what's in his team's hearts and heads, the more effective a leader can be in helping team members develop their potential;
  • Diagnosis — with enough knowledge and concern for the well-bring of others, a leader can diagnose the level of a team member's development and come up with effective strategies to help them continue to develop;
  • Flexibility — the more a leader can adapt his or her style of leadership to a team member's developmental needs, the more effective a leader will be;
  • Partnering for Performance — if the relationship is open, honest and supportive, the leader can engage the team member in setting goals that benefit the organization and the individual.

Often, the real problem rests with the leader who for his or her own reasons is reluctant to place trust in team members.

"In my travels from organization to organization, I talk with thousands of people every year who want to be treated as partners rather than as employees," says Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, a leading executive educator, coach and author of 30 books. "They want information to flow up as well as down. But, oftentimes, leaders do not want to give up control."

Writing for a blog on the Harvard Business Reviews, Goldsmith recalls a CEO of one of the world's largest global organizations who received feedback that he was too stubborn and opinionated. He took the feedback to heart and resolved to do a better job of letting others to make decisions while focusing less on being right himself.

To achieve his end, he adopted a simple technique and vowed to practice it faithfully for one year. Before speaking, he would take a breath and ask himself, "Is it worth it?" He discovered that 50 percent of the time his comments may have been right on, but they weren't worth it.

He quickly began focusing more on empowering others and letting them take ownership and commitment for decisions — and less on his own need to personally add value.

"Employees understand their jobs. They know their tasks, roles, and functions within the organization, and it's time for you to let them do what they need to do to get the job done," Goldsmith advised him.

At the same time, he concedes that "it isn't possible for a leader to 'empower' someone to be accountable and make good decisions. People have to empower themselves." The leader's role, Goldsmith says, "is to encourage and support the decision-making environment, and to give employees the tools and knowledge they need to make and act upon their own decisions. By doing this, you help your employees reach an empowered state."

He cautions that the process can be slow because "employees will only believe they are empowered when they are left alone to accomplish results over a period of time." But, he adds, "it's effective and worth the time." If the leader or the organization has a history of discouraging people to take initiative, the process will take even longer.

Another thing a leader can and should do is "run interference on behalf of the team." People need to feel safe in order to take responsibility. "To make sure this happens," Goldsmith says, "an ongoing discussion of the needs, opportunities, tasks, obstacles, projects, what is working and what is not working is absolutely critical to the development and maintenance of a 'safe' working environment." That references the intimacy we speak of in Leading Like Jesus.

In summary, Goldsmith offers these four guidelines:

  1. Give power to those who have demonstrated the capacity to handle the responsibility.
  2. Create a favorable environment in which people are encouraged to grow their skills.
  3. Don't second-guess others' decisions and ideas unless it's absolutely necessary. This only undermines their confidence and keeps them from sharing future ideas with you.
  4. Give people discretion and autonomy over their tasks and resources.

Copyright © 2010 Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute, 208 E. North St., Durand, IL 61024. Any part of this newsletter may be reproduced so long as there is full attribution, our web site is listed, and any electronic reproduction includes a link to our site: http://www.yeshualeader.com.

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