In order to succeed at their jobs and make meaningful contributions to the company, your employees need one thing that you may or may not be adequately providing: personal agency. Some inexperienced managers believe the opposite. They assume that the more they ride herd over their teams, the “better” these teams will do. In other words, if they spend their days telling their employees exactly what to do and how to do it, watching closely as they follow through, correcting every mistake in real time, forbidding risks, preventing failure, and scolding anything less than perfect obedience, then every project will end in victory. Employees are like oranges; the more you squeeze them, the more you’ll get out of them.
But this simply isn’t true. Studies and empirical evidence show that success lies in giving employees breathing room, so they can make decisions, solve problems on their own, and (gasp) fail. Leadership means backing off by a step a two and allowing your employees to learn and grow. Here’s how.
Stay focused on the long term.
It’s hard to watch an employee attempt something risky and fail. When we see such a failure looming, our natural instinct is to reach out and steady the bicycle so the crash doesn’t happen. But to avoid acting on this impulse, focus on the future. The quicker and harder the crash, the more the employee will learn, and the sooner you’ll see the day that she pedals confidently on her own. Keep thinking about that day.
Recognize that their real value comes from who they are, not what they do each day.
Your employee might toil along on a Monday afternoon, filing files and processing projects. But as the day and the year go by, you aren’t paying her for each of those little projects. You’re paying her for the knowledge she’s accumulating, the judgement she’s exercising, and the competence she’s gaining in her role. You’ve a hired a person, not a robot. So value the contributions she makes that only a person can make. Give her enough room to exercise her ever-growing critical thinking skills.
Trust is magical.
An employee who feels trusted will rise, as if by magic, to a higher level of trustworthiness. Before taking a risk, the trusted employee will put everything she has into making the smartest possible decision. The employee who doesn’t feel trusted, on the other hand, will accept less responsibility for the results, will not feel as confident, and will probably make a poorer decision. But it won’t matter, because if you hover over her, both the decision and the responsibility for the outcome will be yours, not hers.
Trust brings personal connection.
The simplest reason to trust your employees: If you do this, they will like and respect you more. Employees tend to work harder and stay with the company longer if they genuinely like their bosses. Step back and watch your relationship flourish. For more on how to do this, turn to the team at PSU.