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A client of mine, a CEO of a small company, told me that he was having trouble getting his people to adopt a new sales practice. After several weeks of trying, he was fed up: "How do I just get them to do it?!" I suggested he instead ask, "What needs to change about this policy for everyone to get on board?" He replied, with frustration, that he’d rather ask them what needs to change for them to head out the door.
The manager is the quarterback, doing nothing but running every play with the team. But the leader is the coach, guiding the overall effort from a healthy distance. The manager’s question is "How do I get them to do what I want them to do?" But a leader needs to ask a question that capitalizes on his or her investment in people: "What do I need to change in the way I am leading to launch them into effective, independent action?"
The manager approach requires constant care and feeding. You are telling overstressed, busy people to do something new, so you tell them…and tell them…and push and prod…If you look away they may not do it, so it requires your attention all the time. Many managers use the do it, or else! tactic, but it is equally subject to diminishing returns, and turnover, as it creates an unproductive atmosphere of stress and burnout over time.
The leader approach makes the best use of your time and energy by giving your people enough context and removing barriers such that they want to do it right on their own. You’re paying your key people too much to think for them. Help them help you by having them think at their best, and therefore do their best, all the time.
Palm Springs, Calif.
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