Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How Well Do You Lead Your Direct Reports?

If you're the CEO, your direct reports are critical to the success of the company.  In fact, some may say direct reports are smarter than the CEO.  Yet, they can be the most under utilized resource the CEO has. This happens more so if the CEO is very smart.

work against you, especially when you believe you have to be the smartest in the room. Constantly showing your direct reports you are smart can undermine them.  Why?  If the CEO constantly solves problems, direct reports become yes-men.  Over time, they will lose their ability to make tough decisions and will need to consult with the boss for the smallest decisions.

Eventually, this approach bogs down the leader and discourages his top managers from taking initiative.  As a consequence, the CEO may start to resent his people for their inability to make important decisions without his input.  At the same time, his direct reports resent him for his lack of trust to allow them to solve problems without him.  Unfortunately, the outcome is to fire current direct reports or they quit and hire smarter more experienced executives and repeat the cycle. In other words, it doesn’t matter how smart the direct reports are. The boss will continue to squander talent by outshining them, which eventually becomes demoralizing.  

Many entrepreneurs face this challenge.  For one, it’s their company and they can do as they please. Two, it took their great ideas and ambition to start the business and they may believe the business still depends on them. As a result, they find themselves replacing direct reports at various points in the company's growth.  And it always seems like the company has outgrown its lieutenants. 

Despite the fact this pattern occurs in some companies, there are many leaders who are great at empowering their people. The best leaders get the most from their direct reports.  She knows that it is in the best interest of all stakeholders to hire brilliant people under her, let them know what needs to be accomplished and get out of their way so they can do their job.  In fact, if she is a really good CEO, she will intentionally create problems for the enterprise to solve.  As CEO, it is her job to point the organization into new and exciting directions and leverage the brainpower of her direct reports to design the most effective strategy to accomplish the mission.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book, David and Goliath, he talks about leaders who are dyslexic, i.e. Sir Richard Branson.  He says their inability to keep up in school at a young age caused them to make friends with the smartest people in class.  They would delegate homework to those people or engage them in conversations in order to better understand the subject.  The unexpected benefit to those dyslexic children was the development of great leadership skills.  As part of their childhood, they learned to collaborate with very smart people.  And they had no need to prove who was smarter.  They also learned to delegate, ask dumb questions, trust and get out of the way.  Those dyslexic children who became executives had been unknowingly practicing leadership since childhood. The point illustrated is not to say you have to be dyslexic to be a good leader. Their dyslexia, which may be considered a disadvantage, caused them to more wisely leverage the people around them.

Which leader are you?  Are you the one who has to be the smartest in the room?  Or are you the one who hires the smartest and leverages their brilliance?  While being the former will make you look good, it has built in constraints.  Furthermore, it creates a culture that lacks trust but is abundant with frustration.  The latter can often lead to many great accomplishments, trust and continuous professional growth throughout the enterprise.

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know.

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