All Articles Leadership Management 3 quick questions to help leaders get out of the way

3 quick questions to help leaders get out of the way

3 min read


We all like to think we are leading the way for our teams, but how do we know we aren’t only in the way? Ask yourself these questions.

If I weren’t here, would this meeting still happen?

Earlier in my career, I held a standing meeting with my direct reports. I valued the time to share progress on initiatives and to hear their opinions on ideas. One day, I was traveling and missed the meeting. When I asked if anything of note happened, I learned the team didn’t bother to have the meeting. The next time I was out — same story. The team decided it didn’t need it.

Clearly, the team didn’t value this time the same way I did. Team members were getting the benefit of any shared information outside the confines of a recurring meeting. (And, of course, that’s exactly what they should have been doing.)

Go through your calendar. If you find a group meeting that is solely for your benefit, cancel it. This will signal to your team members that you value their time and that they should value it, too. If you aren’t sure about the meeting’s value, announce that you are going to miss it once and see what happens. If the meeting doesn’t take place, you have your answer.

Do I know everything happening on my team?

Well, you shouldn’t. If you know everything happening on your team, you are likely too involved and stifling innovation. As long as a team has a clearly understood vision, empowered team members will consistently solve problems in unexpected ways.

Not being immersed in the details might go against a leader’s desired self-image as an omniscient guru. But when team members think you need to know everything happening, the consequences are inevitable. They make sure you know absolutely everything happening. They slow down and feel disempowered.

An effective leader is constantly surprised but rarely stunned. Being surprised means you see solutions not of your own doing; being stunned means something happened that is out of alignment with the team vision. If you are not surprised regularly by your team, reaffirm the vision and back off.

Do I know what frustrates my team?

Talking about poker players, the movie “Rounders” says, “If you can’t spot the sucker … at the table … then you are the sucker.” Applied to leadership: “If you don’t know what frustrates your team, then you are what frustrates your team.”

You might not need to know everything happening on your team, but you do need to know what frustrates it. Human nature means you might not always get the whole truth. Dig deeper to find the obstacles (even on those uncomfortable occasions when you are an obstacle).

Leading the way is largely about empowerment. To empower your team, value members’ time, enjoy it when they surprise you and help remove their obstacles.

Now, get out of the way.

Bill Tolany is an entrepreneur with leadership experience in startups and at Whole Foods Market. Follow Tolany on Twitter @btolany.