As a senior decision-maker, if you want to get results, leave your ego behind and enlist the support of your less senior colleagues.

Have you ever found yourself in a position where you believe you don’t have the skills in your organisation to deliver a specific project, organisation objective or to resolve an emerging problem? If so, think again. This post is for you.

We all have an ego. Healthy ego is a good thing! Healthy ego stops us from doing things like walking out into the road without looking, stops us from taking unnecessary risks and healthy ego propels us to rising to challenges which help us develop and grow. But ego can also get in the way. Ego can limit our thinking by failing to see the potential in others, or restricting us to one way of doing things, when another way might get different or better results.

Directors do sometimes have to direct. However giving direction in all situations is a likely way to generate high turnover of your team. A great leader will know in which situations giving direction is appropriate and in which, a different approach may be more effective.

Real value is achieved when leaders can be humble and invite others to contribute to resolving the most complex organisational and business problems.

This blog sets out five ways that a leader can let go of responsibility for the doing, and still get the desired outcome.

1. Get comfortable with what you don’t know

I’ve observed many leaders (including me!) fall foul of their own expectations about themselves. A common misconception is when a business owner, who is therefore the most senior person in the business, believes that they must know the answer to a question or challenge when quite feasibly, no one else would expect them to. None of us were born the oracle.  In fact, it is perfectly reasonable for a senior business person to not know, especially when the challenge faced is complex, unforeseen, new or different, and sometimes no clear solution exists or can even be known. Great leaders will be transparent about not knowing and they will demonstrate all the more integrity by being honest about this.

2. Consult with colleagues

To mitigate gaps in knowledge or experience, a great leader will surround themselves with the most diverse pool of experience, including experience and perspectives of those junior to them, and will nurture, encourage and constructively challenge to get the best from them. The most common business failures have often occurred when a senior member of an organisation has taken a decision without consulting those in the know which means the decision lacks grounding in the sharp operational detail required to be successfully implemented. Consulting with others isn’t appropriate for every organisational challenge and consulting alone cannot entirely avoid a wrong or poor decision, but it can significantly mitigate any associated risks.

Posing a well structured and clearly defined question to a group of colleagues or indeed the whole organisation can be a really effective way of generating fresh ideas. This approach also gives colleagues some agency over the issues that affect them and can be particularly effective at engaging and corralling employees during challenging times. If you are considering consulting with employees, keep in mind that you need to ensure you have clear, fair and safe processes to enable people to contribute meaningfully as well as providing guidance as to how ideas will be considered (and by whom) and how decisions may be communicated. Providing feedback about the outcomes from consultation can be valuable but only if done in the right way which takes time. Manage these expectations from the start to gain maximum benefit.

3. Direct delegation

Tasking a more junior colleague with a specific project can deliver multiple benefits including an opportunity for investing in their professional development and an opportunity for the line manager to develop their own coaching or mentoring skills. Effective delegation can also free up valuable time of a more senior colleague to focus on more complex issues, bring a fresh approach to a old problem and developing skills that can be used time and again for other business issues.

The mistake typically made when delegating is that managers simply allocate work. Rarely is this effective. Good delegation involves taking the time to define the desired outcome, providing clear timescales for delivery (which may include breaking the work down into a series of tasks), setting the ‘non-negotables’ – the things that must be achieved and or undertaken in a certain way, and establishing any boundaries such as where decisions are required, who should take them and when. Really good delegation involves clearly defining the desired outcome, in terms of impact sought, and not by prescribing the solution or the “how”.

4. Set up a task and finish group

Similar to consulting with colleagues, a working group comprised of a selection of colleagues with a range of skills and experience relevant to the matter to be addressed can often deliver a more effective solution than leaving the head-scratching to the most senior decision makers, who invariably, become a block to a solution being identified and delivered. If the matter is a particularly complex challenge, one of the key tasks of the group could include establishing a clear problem statement or framing the challenge to define the associated scope of works. Being clear about what is in and out of scope and why will avoid unforeseen delays and ensure the project is achievable.

Ensure that the group has access to the resources it needs which can also and often simply mean enough time, free from distraction from other routine tasks and responsibilities for a period of time. Giving colleagues responsibility in this way provides them with the opportunity to develop their skills and capacity to take on more responsibility from senior colleagues. Additionally, the group is much more likely to arrive at a robust solution that has considered all the risks and benefits in a structured way from every angle.

5. Put out a call to action

Sometimes, just asking colleagues if they have experience in a particular area can yield great results and can often negate the need to bring in external consultants. Of course, internal solutions are not appropriate in every context, especially where a very specific discipline is sought or where the situation carries risk that can be better mitigated through an outsourced arrangement. However the benefits can be many in terms of capitalising on company-specific knowledge that would take time for an external consultant to know, cost-effectiveness if an internal solution can be delivered through existing skills and resources, more enduring outcomes can also be leveraged as those involved in defining solutions may also be involved in implementing them, meaning unintended and harmful consequences can be averted. All of this is an addition to raising the capability of the internal resource pool which can be accessed for future projects.

So now you have some ideas, how might you apply this insight to challenges you may be facing right now? Ask yourself: what can you let go of today that someone else could do and how might developing a less senior colleague help to realise even more value?

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