Leadership’s Most Perplexing People Decision
Save-the-day leaders weaken others but delay is dangerous.
People problems that hang-on are like dripping faucets. Delay escalates irritation. On the other hand, solutions-now seldom work; people need time.
The challenge of delay is choosing
the moment to step in.
Too much delay creates a laundry list of concerns that may feel like attack or betrayal when they come out. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?
On the other hand, stepping in too quickly undermines confidence, invites resentment, and establishes unnecessary dependencies. “Don’t you trust me?”
The benefit of delay:
- Confidence building – as long as there’s progress.
- Deep learning – self-discovery is always better than being told.
- Creative independence – don’t be a hand holder unless people are broken. Delay makes room for independent action.
The problem of delay:
- Failure costs. It slows progress, initially.
- Silence seems like approval. Never approve of failure. Always approve of progress.
- Lost leadership collateral. Those over you may not appreciate your development efforts.
Step in quickly when you see:
- Blind spots. Step in quickly but gently. Blind spots must be seen with our own eyes.
- Negative attitudes. Delay is always a disaster when it comes to negative attitudes. Developing skills is easy compared to lifting negative attitudes.
- Low commitment. Halfway commitment is all-the-way dissatisfying.
Two year olds:
Choose team members with the strength of two year olds, but without the weaknesses. “I can do it myself.” They take ownership with resolve but they’re not arrogant, angry, or closed.
As a rule of thumb, let others work through issues till they seek help on their own. Even two year old’s learn to ask for help.
When do you intervene?
What can you add to these lists?
Could you define “delay” for the purposes of this essay?
Delay is exercising enough restraint not to prematurely intervene. It means holding back to allow others to work through their own challenges, problems, frailties, and opportunities.
I find restraint one of leaderships great challenges.
Yes, yes. Restraint. That’s a better term to frame the concept you were putting across. Thanks for responding to Jason’s question.
Those with high emotional intelligence know when to step in, and when to remain on the sidelines.
When do I intervene? The other person gives me a sign.
You’ve got to have your radar on to pick up their signal.
Thanks Steve… It’s easy for sincere people to jump in where they aren’t welcomed yet.
I prefer to wait for the other person to ask for advice or give me a sign that they need and would welcome some assistance. That is the real teachable moment.
But occasionally you can sense a frustration from co-workers that you don’t want to escalate into frustration or worse, rejection. That is when you know you must initiate a conversation.
I think as long and hard as possible about the right words to say. Sometimes I’m successful, but not always. Quite a bit depends on the positive deposits yI have already made into that person’s emotional account. Have I established enough of a positive rapport that they can ‘hear’ my good intentions?
If not, the outcome is shaky.
Thanks for sharing your insights.
Love the term … teachable moment! How did that work for you? (Said with kindness)
Drive by interventionists seldom succeed… we have to park in someone’s life and earn the right to be heard..
I’m with Jason. The start of your blog sets us up to believe you will argue that delay is dangerous, that leaders should not delay. But you go on to explain how delay is necessary (people development). Then you switch back to explain how delay will cause business, people and leadership problems, and further explain how it is necessary not to delay. Your ending is not very satisfying, especially in using the 2-year-old analogy (even though I understand it, it’s not very satisfying in an adult/professional development context).
I think you’re trying to say too much in one blog.
It’s a poor organization where your own leader does not appreciate your efforts to develop your subordinates or participate in the development of your peers. In an organization where learning and promoting from within is not valued where possible, then I can see that this would be a danger. My advice? Find another organization where you can truly lead – including develop others.
People problems that hang-on like dripping faucets are a signal to terminate the relationship: get a new faucet. If the one you have continues to drip, even after you bring in a plumber, it’s time.
(Dan, you rarely lack clarity in your posts. You must have been in a hurry to get out into the sunshine today!)
Thanks for sharing how you feel I confused the issue… It’s very helpful.
I have often used this phrase to help me remember not to do for others what they can do for themselves, “S/he who does the thinking does the learning.”
Great quote Jackie
Jackie, I love that saying! I’m taking that one with me.
I’m tweeting it… with credit of course.
An interesting post. It’s really tough to handle difficult situations or work on your plans unless you get fast approvals from the higher ups. The disturbing part is that even if after providing the factual information and the need for quick actions things get delayed. It’s a mere work style and the proferssional habit that matter.
Delayed things are okay for specific reasons but one needs to acknowlege the communication and inform on the likely date by which a response can be expexted. Showing an empathy towards your team members or subordinates is very essential to keep the morale of people and keep them energized with motivation by desired timely actions/support.
In fact, proscrastination can be termed as a bad professional habit. It certainly lowers the zeal of others who are waiting for your signal to accomplish new and bigger things, many a times with innovation. I am in full agreement to what you have said in the beginning ‘delay is dangerous’.
As a boss certainly I would not prolong my decision for no good reason and shall keep the other party uninformed. We need to follow CRM principles internally first at the organization level. Otherwise, it can add to more of a casual approach or a non-commital attitude.
The simple formula can be to set priorities even in terms of responding to the request mails and taking quick decisions which are operational type.
As always, thanks for bringing your insights to the topic.
I see the real value in having “Higher-Ups” on board for any decisions where delay might have negative impact.
Great post Dan! I particularly liked the “2 year old” reference. I think back to when my son was 2 years old, and this made me laugh. Thanks for the perspective this morning…
I love it when they get to the point of “I’ll do it myself.” That’s when it’s time to step back and let them work at it on their own. Learning to ask for help when it’s needed is one of life’s great lessons. Stepping in too soon destroys it.
You bet Dan! I just came back from coaching 5 and 6 year olds in a baseball tournament. Stepping in too soon can be a real challenge in many scenarios! Thanks again for the insightful post…
I love the connections between sports, children, and leadership. Makes things seem simple and clear.
Great thoughts about when and how to step ( if at all!) when faced with people issues. Unfortunately, in todays matrix oriented and flat structures, this strategy may not work. My perception of someone’s attitude problem may not align with other team members. Which route one follows then?
You make me think of the value of clarifying expectations anytime we embark on team-based activities.
I like your empty 4’s – they say (to me) that this is work in progress.
I echo Steve’s reference to Emotional Intelligence..
This is perplexing because timing is judgement based, not formula based…– another reason to like the empty 4’s 🙂 — involving 10,000 human signals that vary case to case.
The courage to act when our inner nudge says “now” is critical.
Thanks again for your always “think generating” posts!
“Timing is judgement based” = brilliant… thank you.
Hi. To me, your post reflects the very real complexity of knowing when to step in and when to let people struggle. Thanks for your insights.
That’s what I was shooting for.. 🙂
Dan, the kernel for me is that “restraint” is the key leadership attribute – which seems much more appropriate than delay, which implies almost inaction. Working with young people (& entrepreneurs) I find there are three distinct stages – recognizing that they need help, accepting that others can actually help them, and finally asking for help. As others have pointed out, adults for most part figure out the first two parts and sometimes wait too long or forever on step three asking for help.
When it’s a team member you’ve worked with, you get a sense of when you need to either nudge or step in with a question “Can I help?” in case they wait too long to ask for help.
When I first got the email, I read it as dealing with unpleasant matters with your team member – as in having to tell someone that they aren’t working out and may have to move on (as I did recently)
And also as the parent of two teens, this spoke to me directly as well, where they are actively telling you they don’t want your help and while your left brain says, they’ll learn by doing – your right brain is wondering but can I wait that long or will that be too late for that college app 🙂
Finally, I believe Lynn Marie has a point – this post unlike any others of yours I’ve read (which is most of them) required a little back and forth to figure what you were saying (wait, don’t wait, delay is good, maybe its not 😉 Enjoying what you do everyday – so keep at it.
Thanks for taking these ideas to new places…
Perhaps I succeeded at demonstrating that it’s confusing when we try to determine when to step in… 🙂
I almost always enter with letting my team know how I am feeling… sensing the urge to jump in… but the begin asking questions to get a sense of how much appetite they have for help. Sometimes they are stuck on something very small, that if fixed early in the process can save a lot of wheel-spinning.
Flip side of delay nicely brought. I enter when they ask. I feel early intervention questions TRUST in some of the team members. great post again