I attended a leadership program 24 months ago run by Sharing in Growth (SIG) and was introduced to the phrase “Pave the way, shape the way, get out of the way” with reference to coaching at work and how to encourage autonomy. Out of everything I processed and learnt during the intensive few days of self analysis, other than the fact I fall very much into the “Red” category, was this fantastic phrase. So how could I “Pave the way, shape the way, get out of the way”.
I have been MD at Tridan for some time and will admit that I have always liked to know what is going on and lead by being hands on. The phrase resonated with me as it emphasised what I knew needed to happen. To create a culture of autonomy and empowerment, where everyone is encouraged to think and act for themselves and a culture when I encouraged and allowed them to do this.
During 2014/15 we worked on a project to recreate our company values and one of them is Autonomy, with these definitions:
- We believe in giving our people a chance to solve problems and take responsibility.
- We ensure positive action breeds success.
I knew I had to breed this way of working and I had to grow it throughout the organisation by filtering down from the top. As an MD this has been one of the hardest challenges to achieve, but yet one of the most important and satisfying, especially in terms of our future success.
My thinking and planning led me to another phrase “nose in, fingers out”. I needed to keep a clear check on things, but let go enough to allow initiative and true accountability. Keep my nose into what is going on, but allow others to step up and carry out their roles.
In terms of what this would mean for efficiency and production it was a done deal. This had to happen, but the mountain at times did seem large.
I established early on that delegation would be key, but to delegate you need the right structure in place. This was the biggest hurdle and with some big changes, new roles and definitions this has been achieved and we are starting to reap the benefits. I am seeing individuals step up to the roles and start to bring me solutions, not problems, and I can see the changes in confidence.
I set my team the task, make me redundant by the end of 2016, as the end of April is upon us, I may have to start talking to recruitment consultants…
As a very hands on MD, coaching and stepping back is not easy. I battle with wanting to fix problems and create solutions when the pressure is on, but consistent fire fighting does not lead a company forwards.
It’s like parenting, when the time is right you need to let go and watch them fly, just be there to guide them, but only when asked. Our organisation has grown up into its new structure and we are heading upwards in new directions that benefit all.
The biggest positive we have had, and, if I am selfish (being a red can make you like that..), is watching my team gain autonomy, empowerment and seeing their job satisfaction grow.
I will always have to consciously make myself hold back from giving answers and solutions. A coach colleague informed me recently it didn’t count as coaching if I used a question saying “what did I tell you about that”. True coaching and allowing them to think is not about reinforcing my view with a question, it’s about an actual question that opens their mind and allows them to think fully for themselves. It’s about encouraging and supporting their growth.
So I will continue to keep my nose in but my fingers out. I will sit back and reap what we have worked very hard to sew and let the autonomy keep growing.
I am stepping back, yet I am gaining time to look forwards and that can only bring positive results.
From a personal perspective, I am fairly new to coaching, so my learning curve has been steep, and I know that I have much to learn myself. Which I am fully committed to, as the rewards as mentioned are a joy to watch.
I am more than happy to share further how we have made these changes and welcome any comments on this topic and how other leaders have faced the challenge of letting go and driving autonomy/empowerment.