By John Baldoni
Don’t make me think about it!
That was some advice an executive I know shared with one of his direct reports. The executive was not being flippant; he was letting his junior colleague know that he wanted him to come with well-thought- out plans of action. He was delegating decision making to his subordinate and wanted this individual to pick up the ball and run with it.
Such advice is the opposite of micro-management, call it “I trust you” management, and it is something that all executives need to instill in their people. Otherwise, executives get bogged down in too much detail and essentially manage beneath their level. When that happens, why do you need a subordinate if you are doing the thinking and the doing?
Pascal wrote, “Man’s greatness lies in his power of thought.” So how can you cultivate the “I trust you” management style? Here are some guidelines.
Spade the ground. Not all subordinates are ready to think and do on their own. They need to be competent in their job first and foremost. They also have to be seasoned enough to know how the organization works, specifically what the boss likes and dislikes. They must also know the culture and respect the values of the organization.
Set clear expectations. Make it known that thinking for oneself involves more “what” than “how.” Give subordinates the freedom to experiment and to come up with their own way of doing it. Let them be creative in their approach.
Keep in the loop, not out of it. Execution requires the boss’ involvement, if only to be kept informed. Let people know you will be checking, not because you distrust them but because you want to know how things are going. This is especially critical when situations change and the scope of a job or task shifts.
Insist on a debriefing session. Holding a “lessons learned” meeting after the first couple of assignments is important. Let the direct reports share what they experienced and how they would do things differently — if at all — the next time. Feel free to chime in and share your observations, too. Consider such events as “teachable moments.”
There are limitations to this advice. If a subordinate does all the thinking and acting, then why keep the boss? Executives in charge need to focus on big-picture topics, and that is where they need to apply time and reflection, as well as energy and enthusiasm.
From the subordinate’s point of view, thinking for your boss is essential to influencing upward. It is an opportunity to share your ideas as well as to develop ways to execute them. Individuals who capitalize on this make themselves ready for greater levels of responsibility. And that’s good for the individual and the boss!
John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2010, Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. John’s newest book is 12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead. www.johnbaldoni.com.