Can-Do imageOne of the frustrations many leaders face is the challenge of letting go. When asked to lead a group of up-and-comers, a seasoned engineer may miss the daily rush of innovation. Sometimes the switch from one role to another can work. But just as often, the result is a disappointment to all parties.

Leaders often struggle with delegation. They know they can’t do everything themselves, yet they’re reluctant to give up tasks they enjoyed in their previous roles. This controlling tendency robs others of development opportunities. Nobody wins.

But there’s a way out of this conundrum. Becoming a Can-Do Leader: A Guide for the Busy Manager is a new book that offers strategies to transform “too busy” player-managers into highly effective leaders. Co-author Jamie Millard explains how dual roles can co-exist and even prosper in the modern workplace.

Rodger Dean Duncan: To help leaders boost their effectiveness, you recommend “purposeful multi-impacting.” What is that and how does it work?

Jamie Millard: Multi-impacting is getting more than one thing done with a single action or decision. The purposeful part is making sure any work that is done by the manager also contributes to his or her leadership agenda.

Let’s say Lee is an engineering manager who jumps in to complete an engineering design review. Rather than working like an individual contributor, Lee could purposefully approach the work in a way that achieves more than one objective. He might ask his team member, Joshua, to assist him so he could assess Joshua’s on-the-job engineering skills. Lee might also demonstrate CAD software shortcuts. And give Joshua some tips on how best to explain unique design characteristics to the people in marketing.

By engaging in purposeful multi-impacting, Lee is furthering his leadership agenda by embracing a leadership mind-shift that fully accepts that doing selected work is a key part of his leadership job, not time taken away from leading. 

Duncan: You say that the true source of a person’s “can-do spirit” is in the person’s VITALS—Values Interests, Talents, Ambitions, Longings, Style. How do you actually assess, measure and use such attributes?

Millard: Managers tell us all the time that they want their people to demonstrate commitment, competence and courage on the job—what we call the can-do spirit. What we’ve discovered is that when people feel their values, interests, talents, ambitions, longings and style are considered when given assignments and also when given constructive feedback, their can-do spirit begins to soar. But you might ask, ‘what about the inevitable VITALS mismatches’? We believe that honesty is still the best policy—explaining the situation, being empathetic, asking for their support, recognizing the effort and letting them know that you are depending on them.

So how do managers assess and measure a person’s VITALS? The VITALS acronym guides managers to ask the right questions, listen to responses, observe behaviors, and discover what’s truly important to them. And the best managers we’ve seen tailor work assignments that tap into these VITALS. We have a VITALS Check-up assessment in our book that asks people to reflect on projects or activities that they found highly energizing or very demotivating as a way of helping them discover their VITALS.

Duncan: Many leaders struggle with deciding when, and when not, to delegate. You suggest “situational doing”—being very selective about when and how you do work that could otherwise be delegated. Give us some examples of situational doing.

Millard: Before deciding to do or delegate, we encourage managers to ask themselves a series of questions, such as 1) Could I do the work? 2) What are the leadership advantages of me doing the work? In other words, how does me doing the work further my leadership agenda? 3) Should I do the work? What are the upsides and downsides of doing the work versus delegating the work?

By quickly asking these questions, I might determine that yes, I can do the work. Yes, doing the work will help me observe and assess my people, share my expertise, test our operating procedures and give me some opportunities to provide on-the-spot coaching while doing. And if these advantages outweigh the benefits of simply delegating a stretch assignment, then I can make an informed decision to do the work myself.

Duncan: What are some keys to delegating in ways that inspire people to do great work and derive personal satisfaction from it?

Millard: We talked earlier about delegating in ways that connect the dots between the work that is assigned and a person’s VITALS. When managers do their best to give people work that resonates with their key VITALS motivators, they find that people are more likely to take personal ownership, work harder, and feel more fulfilled.

For example, if you know that an individual contributor has a strong ambition to become a manager, you might be able to provide an assignment that includes budgeting tasks and opportunities to present. And by connecting this work to their ambition to be a manager, they will likely be more motivated to give it their best shot. Even if, for example, the person has confided in you that budgeting and presenting are not their favorite things to do, by helping them see that these are key management skills that they must demonstrate to be promoted, you might get them determined to work very hard to gain the needed experience and develop these skills.”

Duncan: The most satisfying work cultures seem to be those that focus on continuous learning. What are some best practices for creating and maintaining such a culture?

Millard: We remind managers that people are eager to engage in continuous learning if what they are meant to learn and the feedback they get resonates with their key VITALS motivators.

Of course, how the manager behaves is critically important. If, for example, a manager asks for constructive feedback and then follows up with appropriate actions and behaviors, this reinforces a continuous learning culture.

In addition, we ask managers to make it a habit to lead regular team feedback sessions during which everyone is encouraged, regardless of seniority or rank, to provide feedback that pinpoints opportunities for needed improvements. It is the leader’s responsibility to put the emphasis on surfacing feedback that is instructive, rather than simply venting. So everyone knows what they can do to get even better.

Do these things and you will be well on your way to creating what we like to call a “can-do” learning culture!

This column by Dr. Duncan was also published by Forbes where he is a regular contributor. Follow on Twitter @DoctorDuncan

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