Amy cultivated trust in her team by delegating more after she experienced a challenging incident.

Amy was invited to accept a senior leadership role for which she had no technical training. She took up the challenge. But she had doubts about her fit for the role. So did her team members. They were in a security function, and for many years hadn’t seen much change in how they operated. The former manager had been a technical expert, who had spent all of his career in security. Her team members were all technical security experts.

About two years into the role, Amy continued to experience a sense of struggle about her fit. She felt that she needed to be tougher and more controlling to assert herself as the leader. She had a fairly blunt and direct style anyway, and felt she needed to keep it ramped up. She felt frustrated that while this seemed to be expected, the feedback was that she overdid it.

A critical incident occurred. A large theft had to be dealt with by one of her regional teams. Amy worked with her Regional Manager and teams to sort out the process and it was executed according to plan. But the HR team stepped in to challenge the way a particular staff member was dealt with. Rather than going to the Regional Manager, they came directly to her in Head Office.

Sometimes leading means getting out of your own way

Amy was ready to charge in to defend the actions as being ‘the right thing to do’. From her point of view, things had gone very well. The theft situation had been well controlled. She wanted to make sure that her team’s actions were properly understood, and they didn’t experience blowback. She had put on her armour to go into battle.

Luckily, we just happened to have a coaching session scheduled the morning prior to the showdown. The upshot of our coaching session was that Amy decided to reframe the intervention from HR. Rather than being something she needed to control, she saw it as an opportunity from which both her team, and HR, could learn from each other. But she needed to step out of the way for that to happen.

And she did. She told HR that she wouldn’t be meeting with them, but that her Regional Manager and his team would be. She spoke with her Regional Manager, told him what was happening, and why. She spoke with the Head of HR to do the same.

Let go of control to cultivate trust

Amy learned a new way to deal with a challenging situation. By letting go of control, and trusting her Regional Manager to manage the internal fallout, she did several things.

One, she tried on a coaching cap. She redefined her role from manager as expert, and let her Regional Manager be the expert on a situation that had occurred in his patch. She set out to coach him in how to manage the situation. She showed her trust.

Two, by setting up a learning frame, she focused attention on the future, and what is possible, rather than on the past and what was done. This thirdly enabled the focus of action to be on opportunities rather than mistakes.

Fourth, she didn’t use her power in a coercive way as she first intended, to prove that her way was the right way. By stepping back, she showed trust in her Regional Manager by delegating responsibility back where it belonged. She spoke to him about what she was doing and why she was doing it, and offered him guidance and support. The discussion between the Regional Manager and HR was on how they could ensure that everyone’s needs were met if such a situation occurred again.

Delegate and be a more open leader

Her mindset shifted to be more open. It was more collaborative and generous: how can we make this work?

The great paradox was that by seeing this opportunity as one that would benefit from a coaching approach, she felt that she became more congruent in her role. Shifting to a coaching mindset meant she didn’t have to be the security expert. She could spend her time being more innovative, rather than try to learn a new functional skill. Skill that resided in all of her team. She trusted more, delegated more.

She told her team her story of how she felt a lack of fit, why she wasn’t going to try to fit, and why she valued their technical skills. Her relationships with her team members have become deeper. By showing her trust in the team (and herself) by delegating more to them, team members are generating more ideas, making more suggestions and growing their leadership capabilities. She continues to take a coaching rather than a controlling stance. And is spreading it out to other stakeholders in the business.

She’s living the differences between a commanding, directive culture, and an empowering, coaching culture. She’s feeling more congruent, is growing relationships that are more positive, and giving herself space to sweat the big stuff.

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