Leadership Effectiveness: The pipe that taught me a leadership lesson

Leadership Effectiveness: The pipe that taught me a leadership lessonLeaders are well-served by creating an environment in which people can admit what they don’t know and ask for help. I was reminded of this today when a water pipe broke in my garage. It wasn’t a huge leak, but a leak nonetheless … and on a Sunday night. I was able to get a plumbing service to my house (Plumber Tom!) and the person who came said he needed to seek help from his mentor. I thought this “kid” was a fantastic person for having the wisdom to suggest that a more highly trained and experienced person come to our aid.   The younger person, “Sammy,” could have tried to fix the situation himself and possibly make it worse, but he didn’t. The point is that sometimes we have to admit we don’t know what to do and pass the task to someone who is more capable. It takes a special kind of confidence to admit that another person is better equipped to do the job.

Leaders who make it easier for their direct reports to say, “I don’t know, perhaps we need an expert,” or, “I don’t know – I don’t have the knowledge or training for that” will reap the benefits of their humility and honesty. These leaders save countless hours of nonproductive time and lost investment – direct reports’ doing re-work will decrease and disappointed customers might become a thing of the past. The best way to create the environment to encourage “asking for help” or “admitting I don’t know” is to role-model a culture of coaching in which a person can say, “I don’t know but I am eager to learn.”

Five tips for leaders who want to create a culture of coaching in their organizations:

  1. Admit you don’t know and ask for help yourself. Model that behavior from the top.
  2. Make it easy for people to access additional resources when they have a problem they can’t solve on their own. The direct manager is not always the best person for this, although often may be. A person may need a mentor or coach from another department or an external coach, depending on their position and specific situation.
  3. Assess the readiness of your direct reports when assigning tasks. Set people up for success while ensuring they are challenged.
  4. Provide training and experiential rotations for new tasks to create a more stimulating learning environment for employees.
  5. Always reward the behavior when someone appropriately seeks help.

Do people in your organization see you saying, “I don’t know – let me seek input?” Do your direct reports feel free to let you know they need mentoring?

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