In his recent article Stop Telling People What To Do, Keith Webb has completely busted the common leadership myth that “your people just need to be told what to do ‒ they just need more info.”
As leaders, if we allow it to be, even the title of this article is challenging for us because it touches on a core mentality that we can all easily stray into ‒ namely, those that we lead require some of the information that we can offer and, with a little or a lot of instruction, they’ll be fine and produce what I want.
“No…” says Webb in this refreshing take on how to lead effectively, “A lack of information is rarely the problem. So, telling people what to do won’t help.”
Instead, here are his top four tips to help people progress without telling them what to do:
- People interpret your information differently. In leadership scenarios where you are responsible for the development and management of others, making assumptions about how your words are interpreted, by choosing a “hands-off approach” can easily result in problems. Rather than opting to leave managers under your leadership to their own devices by telling them what to do and expecting them to simply “get on with it,” leading them via collaborative, co-working approaches instead can maximize the likelihood of a positive outcome with real progress. This can be a particularly helpful approach in situations involving personnel conflict or tension within their teams.
- Consider whether those in your team have the skills to actually implement your information. Webb highlights for us the importance of using questions and helpful lines of inquiry to gauge the skill-sets of our colleagues within problem-solving scenarios. For example, by asking straight off what it is that your colleague needs rather than making assumptions about what information you need to deliver, you will positively shape how your contact with them develops. Not assuming that your colleagues have the skills to implement change will increase the likelihood of an efficient conversation that leads to better results more quickly and lead away from further frustrations developing.
- People don’t believe what you believe. When working to deliver training for other leaders to help them develop their management and oversight of others in their teams, it’s possible that they will have a very different core conviction about how best to encourage staff development in their cultures. Therefore, initially asking them how they see and understand their leadership models and overall culture, rather than enforcing how your experience of leadership has been, will avoid wasted time of providing input that will essentially never be implemented into their scenarios. This will prove to be a waste of time and possibly lead to frustrations. Ensuring that your in/out is compatible with the organizational culture of where they’re working is a very smart, alternative move.
- Not everyone is motivated in the same way. Some people are “macro” and some are “micro.” What do I mean? In other words, some people naturally see the big picture and are most comfortable working on the grand, sweeping panoramas of leadership and management tasks; others are uncomfortable and not suited to this as they prefer dealing with the forensic, smaller details within strategy ‒ the nuts and bolts ‒ that make things tick smoothly. Having “micro” staff in “macro” scenarios, and vice versa, will never be good for overall organizational output and health of leadership. Therefore, work hard to know how your staff specifically “tick,” how they’re “wired,” where their core skill-set is and then set tasks accordingly. Overall, this is intelligent leadership and will lead to greener pastures more quickly rather than dispensing information ad hoc without the personal/social intelligence we need in order to lead well.
Webb concludes his post poignantly by saying,
If people were machines, then we could just tell them what to do, and they’d do it. Machines are limited. People are much more capable, creative and intelligent. When we’re trying to get people to follow our directions, we see their intelligence as a problem. One of my old bosses used to say, “I’m not paying you to think. I’m paying you to do what I tell you to do.”
Years ago, a leader I worked under once very seriously and matter-of-factly described me as his “subordinate.” While this was technically true ‒ I was submitted to his senior leadership ‒ at the time it struck me as a word that, as a Kingdom leader, I would never want to use, or a thought I’d never want to have, of those under my leadership. I don’t want to bark commands and play the “submit” card; I want to lead strongly and winsomely but with Christ-likeness as my aspirational default.
In our leadership contexts, and, crucially, within our natural and preferred leadership styles, let us never forget to consider whether our approaches are genuinely reflective of Kingdom values or not.
As a young man I wanted to preach. Fruit: nil.
As a professional man I wanted to teach. Fruit, unsure.
As an experienced man I wanted to train. Fruit, some action.
As an old man I try to coach. Fruit: noticeable results.