Senior management has many options when directing their management team and direct reports. One common method is dictating assignments and monitoring staff as they follow orders. Some dictatorial managers may even micromanage staff at each step due to a lack of trust. Other managers may set objectives and have regular reporting by the staff on individual activities. These are more of a military style of management, or as I describe them, “ruling by the golden rule” which is “I got the gold and I set the rules!” These methods may work but they do not encourage agility or creativity in the organization. In fact, it is possible these styles will reduce these needed skills across the organization.
Some senior managers with a lesser understanding of a project’s steps manage by simply passing out tasks expecting staff to accomplish the assignments. These managers have developed a level of trust in the staff, but they may not be drawing the maximum benefit because their staff will work as individuals. More agile executives recognize that drawing from all the employees and enabling them to participate in building a company often improves performance. Part of being an agile leader means enhancing the agility and flexibility in staff.
It is the key responsibility of senior management to establish a vision and direction for a company. Learning to communicate the vision is essential. Everyone working for the company needs to understand the ultimate goals and strive to achieve them. Getting everyone to contribute fully to work towards a vision requires agility, creativity, and continual encouragement. Full contribution means the staff uses their creativity and imagination as well as their hands. Learning to be more agile in ones thinking requires recognition that we do not know everything and that that there are many ways to achieve a vision. In fact, agility requires awareness that visions often require modification or redirection to build a superior company. Encouraging the staff to contribute enhances options and ideas that may take the business further than a single individual might achieve.
Agile leaders realize “we do not know what we do not know.” They try to be more flexible and encourage greater staff participation to ensure things are not missed. A great example was presented in a recent lecture by L. David Marquet, author of “Turn the Ship around.” While serving as a naval ship commander, he gave an order that was impossible to follow. This was a result of lack of familiarity with a ship that he was newly assigned to command. The crew was highly trained and oriented to follow orders without question. They were also reluctant to provide any feedback or question authority. Mr. Marquet’s realization of the need to change and force the crew to be stronger contributors resulted in a ship with one of the worst records in the navy to one of the best records. It is this ability to unify and draw from the each of the team members that takes them to new performance highs.
The ability to encourage each member of team to be an active participant and active contributor ensures that things are not missed, timelines are shortened, and costs reduced. It is not possible for one person to know everything or to see all issues. Having the minds and hearts of the team focused on the improvement of the business will help in the creation of an all-star performance. After all, creating a highly successful business unit is the dream of every leader. Why not share that vision with the team and empower them to help achieve that goal!
A few steps that may help you become more agile as a leader are:
Clearly articulate your vision: People do not always hear and understand what is said the same way the speaker intended it. It is easy to misinterpret or translate what is heard as meaning something different. Agile leaders explore and adapt in order to find a way to communicate a well out thought vision. Then they solicit feedback to ensure everyone understands the vision correctly.
Do not assume you know everything: This type of thinking leads to rigidity and forces you to insist on having a job performed in a particular manner. It also prevents you from recognizing alternatives to accomplishing a goal. Recognizing that there are things we may not know ensures we continue to learn while analyzing and changing as needed. It is often through changes and adaptations that greater accomplishments are achieved. Many times a totally new opportunity emerges and once recognized, it is essential to move quickly to capitalize on it.
Encourage discussion: Building a great team is enhanced by eliminating personal attacks by others. It is ok to be critical of an idea, but limit or eliminate attacks on individuals. People often feel intimidated when presenting a new idea. Attacking them for an idea that seems bad may prevent them from providing a great idea in the future. Agile leaders seek out those t ideas and learn to recognize them. An agile leader is always willing to change direction to achieve something great. It does not matter where the idea came from because your goals are achieving greatness in your business.
Push some decision making down: A great team will have individuals that handle a task better because of their skill set. Learning to adapt and allow others to lead on selected projects is another agile step. Being flexible enough to know who the best person to run a project and allowing them to lead also means you may follow their lead on a project. Agile thinking requires being flexible in your approach to managing the business and that you must be accepting of following when someone is better suited to lead.
Monitor progress without stifling it: Learning to allow your management team to lead their departments without your contributing negatively is an important skill to learn. Assign objectives and get out of the way if needed. Do not be so rigid that you micromanage or eliminate their ability to be creative in accomplishing a goal. The more you direct, the less they feel a need to contribute and will be less likely to let their own reports have the freedom to do their job. Remember, that using ALL the skills and talents of all your employees enhances the agility of the organization.