Leader’s Pocket Guide: Teach & Empower Your Team

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Our leadership style at Betenbough Homes is different than most other organizations. Some of those differences are subtle and others more radical, but they all play into the culture and success we have here. A few of these differences come from principles instilled by our founders, and others grew organically in the management team over time. For the longest time I thought this was tribal knowledge that couldn’t be put in words, but only learned through osmosis as you worked on the management team and saw how others went about their business and served their teams. While that may be true for some elements, it turns out there is a considerable amount of our ideology we can articulate.

So over the past few years, I have written the Betenbough Homes Leader’s Pocket Guide, which is a little 100 page book (really does fit in your pocket) that covers some of the most important principles and philosophies. It proved difficult to pinpoint these concepts and put definition to them, but I thought this effort would help create clarity and alignment in our growing organization, and also help future leaders more quickly understand the dynamics of how we lead and make decisions. For each point, I tried to find the most concise and clear way to illustrate the core concept, whether that was adapting and adding to an excerpt another author had written or writing it myself from scratch.

We’ve decided to share a few of those little bite-sized articles on this blog. This article is adapted from an excerpt from Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership. That is an excellent book, and a required reading for all managers in our company. I’ve personally read a library of books on leadership, and EntreLeadership is in my top 4 … so I highly recommend it.

Rick Betenbough - Founder of Betenbough Homes

Rick Betenbough – Founder of Betenbough Homes

Teach & Empower Your Team
Adapted from excerpt from Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership

The easiest and most efficient decisions are the ones you never have to make. You don’t have to make these decisions because you have equipped someone else with the art of making the call. Our goal as parents is to teach our children to make their own decisions, good ones. Why? Because it is inefficient and frustrating to have a forty-year-old living in your basement waiting for you to tell them what to do every day. Business is the same way, and in spite of how obvious it is we often hand a pile of decisions to someone on our team without first making sure they are adept in the art of making the call.

A major mistake on any team is to give the guy in charge the title of “chief fireman.” Their job is to put out all the fires by themselves – to make all of the decisions. This exhausts the leader and creates a serious workflow bottleneck. Often when someone starts a business, the owner decides on the quality and price of paper put in the copier, the type of coffee, and every other single detail. They are in charge alright, but very soon they are exhausted and the team has no power or dignity. There is a line forming at the owner’s desk to ask permission and direction on every single detail. This is a normal progression of any new business or team, but you must be quick to recognize this as a bad process and grow your people to make the call.

Steve Brown, a leadership teacher, talks about viewing this process with monkeys in mind. This is how he describes it: When a team member walks into your office with a problem, a decision that needs to be made, visualize them with a monkey standing on their shoulder. When the team member makes the statement “We have a problem,” you should visualize that monkey jumping from their shoulder onto the center of your desk. So if your team drops by your office all day long and leaves you their monkeys, you’ll soon be running a zoo. The responsible move as a leader who truly cares about your people, is to ensure when your team member leaves your office they take their monkey with them.

The first step is to give them some ideas for options and instruct them to come back with three good ways to solve the problem and a suggested course of action. To help come up with some ideas for options, you may start by simply asking them what they think should be done. If they really don’t know, you might go a little deeper by saying “Here is how I typically think about things like that…” By taking the time to explain your philosophy, reasoning, and approach to the subject, you are not only helping with that particular decision, but also equipping them for future decisions. You are investing in them.

The next step is to teach your team to come to your office with a problem only after they have found three or more possible solutions and a suggested course of action. That makes for some great discussions and teachable moments as you show them how you would make the call. After solving problems and making the call with your help several times, the best team members begin to see the pattern you use and can do what you do. The final step is very personally rewarding. The final step is when the team member sends an email and tells you what the problem or opportunity was, what the possible solutions were, and finally how they already solved it. Now you are officially beginning to run a business instead of it running you.

The key is to recognize those teachable moments and not rush past them. Fight the temptation to simply tell them what to do and move on. If you do that, you are giving a man a fish instead of teaching him to fish. They will be back tomorrow with a new monkey, so you aren’t saving yourself any time and aren’t helping them grow either.That’s a poor leadership moment.

Eventually a team member should reach a point where they know what to do, but may still lack the confidence to act. Self-confidence issues like that must be handled tactfully, but head on. Help them work through the problem through discussion, and even brainstorm options for what needs to be done. But resist the urge to swing to their rescue and solve it for them. The most effective way to help them grow is to provide just enough support for them to act. Your confidence in them will rub off and they will feel more empowered.

One helpful approach is clearly stating your values, and freeing your team to make decisions that match. Guiding values can make decisions clear.

There is a stark difference between how Southwest Airlines and American Airlines employees handled the same customer request. The AA employee called a supervisor, but when they couldn’t get an answer they pulled out a binder of policies to find what the prescribed response should be. They refused to do anything for the customer that wasn’t explicitly documented, because they feared the repercussions of a wrong decision. This is a hallmark tendency in a cover-your-own-rear culture.

When a Southwest employee was presented with the same request, they simply weighed it against 3 clearly stated, company-wide goals: 1) Safety, 2) On-time performance, and 3) Satisfied customers. They did a quick mental check to see how it lined up. Does this request jeopardize anyone’s safety? Could it cause delays? Will it result in a happy customers? Within a couple seconds the Southwest employee was able to provide an answer with confidence. At Southwest, this has proven to have a dramatic impact on both employee morale and customer experience.

Ultimately, you have to be able to trust your team members to make the call. Proper growth can’t occur without trust. If you feel the need to be part of every decision, it either means you have control issues or they aren’t the right person.

Teaching and equipping your team to make the call requires intentionality, effort, time, tact and encouragement … but the long-term payoff is huge for everyone involved.


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