Try This One Weird Tip To Increase Leadership in Your Organization

Credit: MaxPixel

As leaders, most of us have been in a place where we’re maxed out. It can be tempting to just do it ourselves and hope things improve. Another thing that often happens is that it gets shoved on someone else, and they’re left to deal with it.

As a rule, I try not to hand things off without offering some support to those I’m handing it off to. So for example, a conversation about if someone wants to try being a team lead will include:

  • The question of what they’re open to / interested in.
  • Some insight into why I think they might be good at it.
  • The kind of support they will get.
  • The question of: what kind of support would they want to feel comfortable with things.
  • Time to think about it.

Some people thrive on being thrown into the water and left to sink or swim. But that’s not appealing to everyone – and it can be particularly unappealing for those for whom failure is much higher cost (like… people who aren’t white men). Making the prospect safer makes it seem more possible for a more diverse set of people. Bringing the conversation of support up front makes it less like it’s addressing a problem, and more like a normal part of taking more on.

I’ve come to observe that sometimes those who feel they need the most do the best over the medium to long term. They are more likely to embrace the help available to them, work harder to overcome natural preferences, and pay that support forward to others on and off their team. It can be a leading indicator of those who will level up and those who will burn out.

As a rule, I expect to spend a third to half the time that it would take me to do something badly on helping someone else work up to doing it well. E.g. if I had an eight person engineering team, and I wanted them to have a manager who wasn’t me. For me to do a poor job of it would probably look like about ~4 hours per person per month (32 total), broken down:

  • 16 hours of 1:1s a month.
  • Another 16 hours of misc. activity (4 hours of team meetings / misc follow ups).

But, if instead of an eight person team, I have one manager, I would have:

  • 4 hours of 1:1s a month.
  • Another 8-12 hours a month of ad hoc support, reviewing etc (incl. 8 hours of skip 1:1s per quarter).

So now I’m spending 12-16 hours a month, instead of 32. But instead of a minimum acceptable level of management, the team is getting a better manager – and that manager is getting a good level of support from me (and likely taking on some other things beyond people management as well). Perhaps I haven’t saved that much time, but I have scaled in a way that should help the team execute better, and mean there are fewer emergencies.

Tried this? Benefitted from this (I know I have)? Leave your story in the comments!