Unpluggable Leadership

Hand Unplug Or PluggedCan you unplug as a leader? I’m not talking about being away from the office, but still tethered to your phone and computer. I’m talking about unplugging . . . not thinking about work for an extended period of time. It seems somewhere along the way, it became a status symbol for work to be like another appendage — always connected to your ear, your fingers, or at the very least your brain. And yet, you’ll be a healthier, more productive leader if you unplug on a regular basis.

Granted, being able to truly unplug does take some advance work. For example, does your organization have a culture of autonomy or dependency? Are your people allowed to make decisions and implement solutions, or do you expect them to come to you for every decision? News flash, if you’ve hired well and have a clearly communicated vision, in most instances your people will find solutions to the challenges before them. No, they won’t always handle things exactly the way you would, and you can process through their thinking and yours either before or after the decision is made. The point is . . . what are you doing to build your confidence, and that of your staff, that they are fully capable of making important decisions? A few suggestions:

  1. Have a clear expectation that for every challenge brought to you, one or more possible solutions are also suggested. This builds solution-focused thinking within your team. In most cases, they are closer to and have more information regarding the situation than you do, and thus are able to consider, or rule out, a wider range of possible responses. Solution- focused thinking is like a muscle . . . it expands through regular use.
  2. Listen and ask questions rather then provide answers. This is a tough one for some leaders. When a member of your team is discussing what they see as a possible solution, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. If you feel they may be missing an important factor, ask them if they considered it rather than telling them what you think they overlooked. Help them to tap into their own wisdom and problem-solving skills.
  3.  Let them run with it. Once you and your people gain confidence in their ability to handle complex decisions, you need to let them make them! Some leaders can feel a bit “left out” when their team starts making more decisions. Resist the urge to re-insert yourself where your people don’t need you. Stay informed as opposed to involved. The whole purpose of building a top-notch team is so you can focus your energies on more strategic, big-picture endeavors.

Which brings me back to my original point . . . one of the best ways to expand strategic, big picture thinking is to unplug on a regular basis. And ultimately, that’s the job of a leader, right — strategic, big-picture thinking? So what’s stopping you? Build the culture, grow your team, take a deep breath . . . and unplug.

Switching Glasses

Blue plastic glasses isolated

It is always interesting to me when two people are at the same meeting and yet come away with an entirely different perspective on what transpired. When the other party is someone you trust/respect, the natural reaction is to ask questions about their views and explain why you see things as you do — which ultimately can lead to greater understanding. If the person with the differing view is someone you don’t know/are frustrated with, our natural reaction is often to reinforce our own thinking and question the motives/understanding of the other party.

How much easier could it be to address conflicts if we would, in effect, switch out our glasses to see things from a different perspective? In their book Reframing Organizations, Bolman and Deal identify four different frames, or perspectives, through which to view leadership challenges. While most of us naturally skew toward one frame it can be enlightening, especially in challenging times, to view the situation through multiple lenses.

The structural frame, let’s call these the horn-rimmed glasses, focuses on structure and tasks. Are you trying to “fix” individuals when the real issue is systemic? Is the structure too loose, lacking clarity, or too tight with rigid rules? Or maybe you need to switch to your human resource frame — you know, fun blue plastic glasses that let you focus on the relationship between your people and the organization, and how best to meet your staff members goals while also moving the organization forward.

In especially sticky conflicts, perhaps you should pull on your trendy frameless specs to view the situation through the political frame. As much as some leaders may want to avoid this lens, when you are dealing with divergent interests, scarce resources, and power, this frame may provide the clarity to find a way forward.

In a different situation, your wire-framed symbolic lens may be most helpful. Considering how to blend the intellectual with the emotional — the head and the heart, traditions and meaning — just might be the most effective in coalescing your people around a common goal.

There is no one right pair of glasses for every situation, so if you’re stuck, or frustrated with a particularly stubborn challenge, try on each frame and consider the issue from that perspective. You just might gain new insights that could point toward a path that was obscured when viewed from a different vantage point.

Yes, I know, you have a favorite set of glasses. They are comfortable and serve you well in most situations. But leadership isn’t always about being comfortable. Sometimes it’s about considering different perspectives for the good of the organization. Next time you are stuck with a challenging dilemma, try switching your glasses. You just might be surprised at what you can see through those horn-rimmed beauties.