We can quote the old Chinese proverb until blue in the face, but it always rings true: Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime. More and more successful companies are successful because they teach their employees to be leaders. Amit Singh, president of Google for Work, reinforced this old belief in a new way recently. He told the New York Times,
I learned the hard way about the importance of coaching people rather than jumping in and doing the work for them. A lot of folks have a tough time with that balance, and I did, too. Instead of giving people advice or coaching them on how to present something, I would go and do it for them or write their presentation.
In other words, getting frustrated with a newbie and pushing them out of the way to do it yourself, never works. But, believe me, that happens more than you think. I see it daily, especially when we break up into teams to perform a team builder and the boss is a team. At first glance you think, wow, the boss is “one of the common folk” and that is true for many. But watch that team move around, say in our Treasure Hunt Adventure, and see who is doing all the work, all the leading, answering all the questions. Nine times out of ten, it is the boss.
Learning how to get along and work together, work in a team, is the difference between frontline managers and leaders. Leaders find a way to work together.
There are several reasons this can happen and the most glaring is “leadership paralysis.” With the boss there, if the rank and file do not feel comfortable enough they just will not speak up and take the helm. No one wants to err in the boss’ presence so no one tries. The boss feels the vacuum and does what he or she is paid to do, get things done. And a valuable lesson is lost and a negative one is reinforced. How many times have I seen the team following the boss around the site, holding the map, barking orders, I cannot count.
So Singh gives us an insight into the Google culture when he says
Over the years, I have tried to find the balance of when to jump in and when to coach. I’ve also learned how to coach. A lot of folks wait until a formal review, and I’ve always felt that the best coaching is in the moment and actionable.
Coaching, I have learned from someone close to me who took an important step in her corporate leadership life when she focused on imbedding the values of coaching into her executive demands. She attended the Newfield Network in Boulder where leader Julio Olalla teaches “transformational leadership.” As opposed to informational learning where we input knowledge the old fashioned cognitive way, transformational learning involves “psychological (changes in understanding of the self), convictional (revision of belief systems), and behavioral (changes in lifestyle).” Deep, emotional meaning is attached to major learning patterns. A perfect example was my Dad who, after suffering a major heart attack and quadruple bypass, completely changed his lifestyle. Not only his diet was changed but his entire outlook on how to live was altered. And this profound change came because of a brush with death on the OR table of Massachusetts General.
Of course, all transformational learning does not need such a motivation. But the key is to have an experience during the learning process that sets the foundation for the change. In our team builder, we have teams seemingly compete against each other and then, when they least expect it, they are nudged into cooperation. This is a bitter pill for some to take. No one likes to lose to their fellow workers but successful companies all know the value of this. And Google is one of them.
It’s about trying to make somebody better versus criticizing someone for doing something. Done right, people love it, because you’re really invested in their success. – Amit Singh
Simon Sinek’s take on leadership (with 25 million hits) says the same thing in a different way:
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