You know that thing about kids not liking being told what to do? Well, I can testify to it from considerable personal experience.
My wife has spent the past few months training for an Ironman Triathlon, so it has been exclusive “Daddy Daycare” time for my two young daughters and my son. This was far from a daunting prospect as we have a lot of fun together, but with all the activities that we undertook, I noticed an interesting phenomenon…
Things are far smoother and much more enjoyable when I was not being prescriptive. Telling them to clean their rooms when they were both in the middle of a favourite TV show did not go down well. The next weekend I let them know that they had two hours to watch a film, clean their rooms and do their homework. They make the decisions on how to get there. If you are interested, their preferred choice was rooms, film, and then homework. I trusted their judgement and everything got done in the end.
However, the absence of active “management” doesn’t necessarily mean that there is any leadership going on. In the above example, I wouldn’t say that I was leading the kids, I was just letting them get on with it in their own way.
Taking them camping (for example), is a different story altogether.
When someone is out of their comfort zone, they need a hand around their shoulder to coax them in the right direction. Nothing too pushy, just supportive and reassuring. I show them the objective and they make the decisions on how to get there. That for me is the essence of a leader.
Camping offers the perfect blend of fun and challenge – there are multiple ways to prepare dinner and multiple places to pitch the tent. As long as you make sure that the kids don’t put themselves in harm’s way, you can go on a journey of discovery together, helping them make decisions if they need it and ensuring that you have some food on the plate at the end of the evening.
In the work context, the opportunities to be a leader for your employees are everywhere. You just have to adapt your mentality and keep your eyes open.
Of course, it is far easier to be a manager than a leader. When you are prescriptive, you will be more certain about the result. When you feel in control, you will sleep easier at night. Managing implies pushing someone forward, controlling the destination. When you are leading, you are all looking in the same direction, but there is no pushing involved, you might describe it as more of a magnetic pull towards the desired result. Leaders facilitate the journey, they don’t dictate it.
Helping my girls and my son find their own way was so much more pleasurable for me. Being a leader is hugely rewarding, being a manager is often an uphill struggle.
Written by Alex Turner, Edited by Paul Drury