Leaders don’t do all the work

2010 Update: I made the decision to bring Say “Alaka‘i” here to Talking Story in late May of 2010 when the Honolulu Advertiser, where the blog previously appeared, was merged with the Star Bulletin (Read more at Say “Alaka‘i” is Returning to the Mothership).

Therefore, the post appearing below is a copy of the one which had originally appeared there on December 7, 2008, so we will be able to reference it in the future when the original url it had been published on is no more…


Leaders don’t do all the work

And it’s a good thing they don’t.

The best leaders are exceptional at making room for other people: They give great managers exciting opportunity for optimizing the pool of talent available to them.

When we say we employ other people in business, what we actually are employing are their talents, their skills, and their knowledge with making some kind of production happen. We are creating opportunities for them to make contributions they will feel are important to the cause, worthwhile in the effort, and important to their sense of personal satisfaction. They will feel useful and appreciated.

In this week’s email;

A business owner asked for my thoughts with how he was planning on describing one of his ideas to the rest of his staff; he wanted some suggestions on an approach which would make them excited about what he planned to do. We scheduled a call because I had a few questions for him, needing some clarity on how to help him better, and in the course of our conversation he realized that he was making a decision which was very straightforward and quite final; he’d be explaining it to everyone and asking for their understanding and support, but it wasn’t an idea which included them very much. The actions to be taken were all his.

And that’s fine; at times that will be all that’s called for, and I admired his desire for complete transparency with his actions. However if leadership practice is what you are aiming for in particular, doing all the work involved with making a decision and executing it will be the exception versus the rule. What leaders do is create the possibility for actions taken by an entire team or larger group of people. They look for contributions, for participation, for partnership and for creative collaboration so that “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

So you have your great idea. Now figure out exactly what you want others to do. Ask yourself, “How will others enroll in this and take actions of their own along with me?” and “Why will they want to?” Resist any impulse you might have to give out all the answers, because you’ll often get some much better ones!

Sunday Koa Kākou is where I will answer your questions or we will continue our comment conversations from the past week. If this is the first you have visited, you can read more here: Your Aloha has created Sunday Koa Kākou.

If you have a question on management and leadership you would like to see featured, I would love to hear from you! Write to me with “For Sunday Koa Kākou” in your subject line and we will share it with the rest of our Say “Alaka‘i” community of readers.