Giving Up the Keys

“Trust is the glue of life.”  Stephen Covey

Just like parents watching one of our kids drive out of the driveway on that first date, we have to confront our fears and overcome them through trust. It takes courage to allow others to take the reins and make decisions, because they might fail. Something bad might happen. At the very least, the organization might underperform, and you could lose market share in the short run.

But where would we be now had our parents not given us the keys for that first date? Certainly we might not have become the same responsible adults, nor would we have known the feeling of trust and empowerment as soon in our lives. And there’s no doubt we would have been more reluctant to give our kids the keys when they reached the moment of their “first date.” We learned to trust because we were trusted.

Still, we have all been around micromanagers who don’t understand the concept of trust. They stifle their teammates by constantly insisting on controlling every action, making every decision. Nothing escapes review and edit before approval. For the control freak, trust is not an option.

Typically we hear these comments from micromanagers:

  • “I’m the only one who knows this business.”
  • “We cannot afford mistakes.”
  • “No one else has my level of experience.”
  • “When (Joe) or (Jane) has the right level of knowledge and training, I’ll let them have more responsibility.”
  • “I don’t have anyone good enough to run this operation.”

For these distrustful leaders, the future is bleak. If they are fortunate to have hired any of the best and brightest, these potential superstars won’t tolerate being distrusted for very long. They will vote with their feet. Sometimes it may take a few months, or in some cases a few years, but the “A” players will go away if they are never given the keys.

So what‘s the solution if you hear yourself saying these things? As one of our old football coaches used to say, “It’s time to man or woman up.” Here’s a concept of developing an environment where trust and empowerment are inherent parts of the culture of your organization:

  1. Survey your team to see how they feel about your mission, intent, shared values, and culture – and whether they feel valued. Get an external team to help do this. You’ll learn a lot from this exercise, but check your ego at the door when the results come in.
  2. Assemble a “tiger team” from across your organization, comprised of old hands and relatively new people, from various departments. Charter them with developing some techniques you can employ to broaden the scope of individual responsibilities. Give them 90 days to do it, so they have a sense of urgency.
  3. Review all of your SOPs. Throw out the ones that are trivial. Make it clear that the ones you keep will be followed. In this process, you’ll have to overcome the “company protective society” that wants to have a rule for everything. The answer to them is: “When we have trained people who feel a sense of ownership, they will do the right thing when no one is looking.”
  4. Develop a leader training program. Use brown bag lunches for specific topics, such as deliberate planning, counseling, performance evaluations, developing effective presentations, and professional reading. Stick with it, and do everything you can to promote from within, based on leaders successfully completing the development program. Invite other professionals to come in and conduct part of your training. Participate in workshops, such as the Level Five Associates “Big 6” leadership principle workshops to give your leadership additional depth.
  5. Celebrate wins, and recognize individual achievements on a regular, if not daily, basis. Once your team learns that you are focused on winning, and recognizing excellence, the results will be spectacular. Bring your culture to life with stories of team members exhibiting initiative and walking the talk with company values. Everyone you want to have on your team wants to win.
  6. In your strategic planning process, set specific, prioritized goals and objectives, with timelines. Put your most promising, high potential young leaders in charge of the Key Result Areas (KRAs) you identify in the strategic planning process.  Measure results every quarter. Achieve momentum.
  7. Take your hands off the controls. Lay the track, resource the team, then let them get it done. Spend your time mentoring your direct reports, looking out at what your organization needs for future success, and recruiting the next set of “A” players. If your leaders indicate they cannot run the organization, get them either in another seat on the bus – or off of the bus completely.

Go ahead, resolve to give up the keys and start to trust and empower more people, more often. You’ll grow great leaders, lead your industry, make more money, and have a lot more fun. Empowered teammates achieve spectacular results. Enjoy the journey!