I remember a definition I once heard of auditors. It was said that they came in after the battle and shoot the wounded. (My apologies to all of the auditors out there.) Recently the term came up again. It was used in terms of a leader that comes in after the fact and beats up the team over something that has already been resolved. When the example came up, I and another person said: “Don’t shoot the wounded!”. We thought it was hilarious that the same phrase came to mind.
I have seen many leaders that share this tendency. When their team successfully handles a challenge, they cannot sit idly by and see how the team handles the problem without them. They find the need to insert themselves, even when not necessary. And worse, after the team has successfully managed difficult waters and landed safely ashore, they find the need to come in and point out everything he would have done differently.
It takes many forms
Choking on nats
One client, who is in the process of “stepping back” from his business, finds himself unable to truly do it. Recently he took some time away from work. He put his team squarely in charge. For the most part, things continued without a hitch. But, this is a business, and there were naturally some hiccups. In particular, one of their KPIs fell off during a two-week span.
Now nevermind that sales for the month were on target. When the owner came back he saw that this one particular measure was off. We don’t know why. It’s not a measure that directly corresponds to sales. And, the team already knew about it and were taking steps to improve the situation.
Furthermore, there was one big concern going on with the business. Lead generation had fallen off significantly due to some changes with their digital marketing strategy. These changes were not permanent, but they were having a direct impact on leads, lead quality, closing percentage, and, of course, revenue. Now if the owner had come in and pressed on this issue, then it would have made perfect sense. Why did he not get upset about something that clearly has a direct impact on profit? My guess is that he was intimately involved with what was going on with the digital strategy. If he were to yell at his team over that, he would have had to take a long look in the mirror.
This reminds me of that old saying, he chokes on nats, yet swallows a camel. You can figure the rest out.
An ego thing
Another problem I see is ego getting in the way. Many business owners want to be recognized as critical to their business. (They haven’t read my article on succession planning). Their ego gets in the way. They have to be an important part of the business.
Now I am wired just the opposite. For example, when I would go on vacation, I wanted my team to be able to fully function without me. I believe the best example of my skills as a leader is my ability to disconnect from day-to-day operations from time to time. If I can do that, and business isn’t impacted, then I have done my job.
I remember one time we were vacationing in Hawaii. There was a relatively small issue that crept up on our project back home. One team member happened to share it with someone outside the team. This person is a little bit of a drama queen (or I guess he’s a drama “king”). He took it up the ladder to his boss, who brought it to the attention of my boss. And within a few hours, a minor issue that was being handled on my team was escalated to a five-alarm emergency. My boss tried desperately in vain to track me down (I was driving on the Road to Hana, where there is no cell phone coverage). It took me a few hours to talk him down off the ledge. By the time I returned to work the next week, everyone was fine.
Another business leader I know is anything but that. When he goes on vacation he checks in the office multiple times a day. He cannot unplug. And it’s not that he is necessary to the operations. In fact, it is almost the complete opposite. But when he calls in he constantly manufacturers a crisis or two. He finds out about a customer issue somewhere or a person that didn’t handle something just right. And, instead of coaching the team on how it could be handled better next time, he stages an all hands on deck, everyone come out to address the problem that HE discovered whiel HE was on vacation. And why CAN’T this company operate without HIM.
Yes, it all comes down to one thing. Capital E-G-O.
The best gift for your employees
I once was told that the best gift a father and mother can give their children is a happy marriage that doesn’t depend on them. You see, when the kids are gone (to college or whatever stage after living at home), the husband and wife have to rekindle the relationship that existed before the kids. So the best thing they can do is keep their marriage in a state that doesn’t depend on the kids to be happy.
Similarly, the best gift a business owner is a company that is not dependent on him or any other team member. It’s critical that they have the ability to run the business without you. Every leader on every team should have this same objective. If every team can operate without their individual leader, then the company should be able to operate without the boss at the top.
Be intentional about it
If you want your business to be able to run without you, it takes thoughtful preparation. It takes teaching them to do the right thing, trusting them when you are gone, and resisting the urge to “shoot the wounded” after the battle is done.
If you would like to learn more about how to build this culture in your organization, give me a shout today at firstname.lastname@example.org.