It was mid-afternoon on “game day” when I received a message the meeting was moved back right into my departure timeframe, creating a problem for several reasons. It was a meeting I could not miss, and on this day, I had a real dilemma. I was coaching a 6th grade boys basketball team and we had an early game, and my plan was to leave work earlier than normal, but now I couldn’t. The assistant coach had already said he’d miss the game. So, I called my wife, explained the problem, and asked her to sit on the bench with the boys until I arrived, hopefully before halftime. I gave her the starting lineup, the positions on our press and the defense, and closed by saying, “the boys will know what to do.” I drove to game wondering how it was going. I arrived and looked at the scoreboard and smiled, we were up by 19 points. At a timeout, I went to our bench and my smiling wife said, “I’ve just been warned we can’t press if we’re up by 20.” Then of course I was given the 3rd degree by a bunch of 6th grade boys about being late, something I always talked to them about.
The team was talented and prepared, knowing what to do even without me being present.
As a leader of a team in your organization, your # 1 responsibility is to prepare them to function without you. Yet that’s a challenge for many leaders who love to be needed, it’s how they get their own internal affirmation.
Preparing your team to be without you is a little like parenting. You need to start with the end in mind. If you don’t want your child living in your basement, teach them to be independent, don’t do everything for them. If you want to be promoted, prepare your team to succeed after you’re gone.
Here are 4 things I believe are most important in preparing your team.
- Teach them how you think – They don’t need to be you, thankfully there is only one of you, but it’s helpful if they understand your decision-making process. When they must make a decision, and you aren’t around, they will wonder, “what would ___do?” Don’t let it be a mystery or a guarded secret. Share with them about how you approach problems, what you consider, what you look for, etc. It’s how you will coach them when you aren’t present.
- Teach them to solve problems – It’s fun having all the answers, being the all wise and all-knowing leader, but it doesn’t help the team. Stop solving problems for them. When they want you to give them the answer, turn it around, ask “what would you do? Why?” After they respond, give them different circumstances, and ask what they would do. Become a problem-solving teacher.
- Teach them to “connect the dots” – Help them understand how their work fits into the “big picture” of the organization. Share it with them how and why organizational decisions are made, even the tough ones. Teach them to look beyond their silo.
- Teach them trust by trusting them – Give them opportunities to make decisions and trust them. Let them learn while you’re around as their lifeline. Their confidence and skills in decision making will grow because you trust them.
If you plant the right seeds, you will grow a crop of future leaders, ready to perform at their best because you invested in them.
A farmer too lazy to plow his fields at the right time will have nothing to harvest. Proverbs 20:4