Over the last 5 years as I have gone about working closely with strong founder entrepreneurs and Corporate leaders one challenge I have often seen is a second line waiting for instructions and rarely challenging the assumptions or decisions or the management style of the owner or leader on their face – right or wrong. Unless of course the idea is downright stupid and doomed for failure !


Many entrepreneurs and leaders just do not want to let go of power and authority and poking their nose in areas they should not – from cheque signing, to decisions on approving even relatively small amounts, to keeping on deferring decisions on hiring people, to not trusting their team members enough, to often bypassing the team or business leaders and giving instructions to the team members directly !


So the team gets used to coming to them for every small decision which clogs up the leader’s time and bandwidth and slows down the team too. Hence the lack of time for longer term strategic thinking or for critical areas like networking or client relationship management as much as is needed at the leadership level.


Does not sound like the recipe for success but unfortunately its prevalence is pretty high. The solution is in fact simpler than most people believe and it just needs a hard knock sometimes from a Mentor or a Coach or a Board member or a boss who comes with an unbiased and solution focused approach and can say it like it is on the face without worrying about the consequences.


In my mind there are a couple of simple changes (not that change management or letting go of hard wired habits is ever easy, but then neither is it herculean 🙂 )


  1. Move from the short term crisis management mindset to a longer term framework with clear milestones and measures of progress. If the other skill of the leader is creating these fires in the first place through knee jerk decisions and keeping the whole team on the edge with constant criticism it does not help the cause.
  2. Define the Goals with clear goalposts and measures as part of a documented and well thought out Marketing and Financial Business plan. The power of a good and dynamic Business Plan document which gives short, mid and longer term Goals should never be underestimated. When backed up with clear Assumptions, Execution Strategies, Actions, investments and Management support needed and accountabilities of the leadership team with clear timelines it certainly helps increase the likelihood of the Goals actually being achieved. And is the first step in engaging teams who have to deliver the results anyway.
  3. Bring in documented processes, technology tools, business reviews and Management dashboards which help Business Owners to step back from day to day operations yet stay connected wherever they are to have a ear to the ground and intervene if needed. This should be the next step to slowly distance themselves from the day to day operational issues.
  4. Building a stronger second line, empowering them and making them Accountable as profit centre or functional heads with clear targets, deliverables, performance incentives and other good HR practices would be the next step. With the letting go of some power and encouraging the next level to step forward and take ownership a whole new energy seeps in and a more open and accountable culture gets established in the organization.
  5. Invest in coaching and developing the team to become more entrepreneurial, more strategic and more effective team leaders who feel like a part of the Core or leadership team. It is amazing to have seen first hand with many of my clients how suddenly these Yes men who waited for instructions or kept their thoughts to themselves now start contributing ideas, become more participative, confident and ready to move to bigger roles and challenges in the process.


From my own experiences over 3 decades, I feel I tried to perfect the art of Delegation, Empowering, setting a direction, Challenging the teams , staying a bit away from the day to day operations yet staying fully informed through reviews and dashboards, and asking leaders who came to me for smaller decisions why they came to me a few times till they came only when they had to for the larger decisions.


It was summed up by a senior leader in my team in a pretty apt way – “Go to the people. Learn from them. Live with them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. The best of leaders when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the people will say we have done it ourselves. He delegated but didn’t fail to review. He participated in strategic meets, lending direction without directing. He embodied all this while leading his team which itself had accomplished leaders “


As was rightly summed up – The role of leaders is not to create more followers and yes men, but to create more leaders who can lead their smaller teams and businesses to grow in line with the vision they have jointly created and believe in.Letting go of power, authority and perceived control is the sign of an empowered leader who is not insecure about what will happen when he or she lets go. And this applies at home too.


Lets build more such leaders in all teams for the health of the organisations looking to scale up, innovate, retain good talent and stay relevant in a fast changing market.


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