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How to stop meddling and get on with the job of leading your business

One of the ironies of organisational life is that the better you are at your specialism, the more likely it is that you’ll be moved up the organisational ladder to a level where you no longer do it. As a business owner or leader you may find, as your business grows, that there’s no real call for you to do your specialist work any more. What’s going on?

Kate Mercer, co-founder of Leaders Lab and author of ‘A Buzz in the Building’ explains that as you rise up your organisation (or it grows beneath you), the balance shifts. Less time is spent ‘doing the work’ and more is spent managing the organisation itself. You don’t have to let go of your expertise, nor your standards. But to do your job properly, you now have to learn not to work in your business (if you are lucky, there are other people to do that) but, increasingly, on it.

Working in your organisation is handling all those concrete, visible and tangible things that have got your operation to where it is today.  To work on your organisation, Mercer suggests that you’ll need to train yourself to spot things which at first will not seem so concrete, visible and tangible. You’ll also need to develop a new set of skills.  

For example,

  • How motivated are people?
  • Do you despair of getting others to abide by your values and standards?
  • Are you and your fellow directors micro-managing others?
  • Are you always running to keep up with the workload?

As a leader of your organisation, your sense of ownership will be huge. This may be your excuse to continue doing things yourself – but you must stop. Doing things in your business is no longer your job. Now you need to think about your vision for the business, your values and your standards and learn to talk to people in a way that motivates them.  

You may assume that people will just naturally copy how you do things, but adult human beings don’t work like that. They need to understand and buy in to the reasons for doing things in a certain way – and you need to learn how to help them do it.

Kate Mercer has the following advice to help you get buy-in from your team:

For example, in a customer service or call centre setting, certain organisations teach their staff to call total strangers, address them by their first name, and as the opening gambit for a conversation ask, “And how are you today?” Maybe you can make it sound natural, because it’s your way of doing things, but others might prefer to introduce themselves briefly and say why they’ve called. But somebody wrote the script, and now hundreds of call centre staff follow it slavishly and sound like robots.

So, if a clear script or check-list isn’t the answer – what is? It’s simple; ask the team. They may have even better, and certainly more personal, ideas for engaging someone’s interest and connecting with them – that’s why there’s no point trying to train them in your or anyone else’s way of doing it. Instead, tell them what you are trying to achieve, and start a conversation with them about this outcome, how they see it, and how they personally would take steps to achieve it.

In the conversation, you’ll hear if any of them have ideas that don’t fit your values or standards and you’ll be able to explain and clarify these again. If you are willing to listen, together you will come up with a variety of ways of achieving the original outcome that are even better than the method you came up with by yourself.

More importantly, you’ll have transferred your original vision to your team, and they will all now be bought in to achieving the same standard of service. They will feel empowered to express this aspect of the organisation’s values in their own way. And you won’t need to keep meddling – instead you can spend your time getting on with your own job of working on your business.