This is not to be taken literally; any team without a clear leader would be the same as a ship without a rudder. What we are talking about here is developing your team to become autonomous in their way of thinking. Giving someone autonomy for their activity gives them an element of control when it comes to how they go about their process.
Research has shown that autonomy is one of the major elements that relates to job satisfaction and motivation. A work force that are involved in the decision making for certain elements of the team progression are shown to have increased levels of engagement, creativity and autonomy in other aspects of their role. Everyone knows that an engaged and happy team will always outperform one feeling disillusioned and negative. From a leadership perspective, an engaged team is also a much easier team to manage!
One of the most common challenges that get put to us by billing managers is that they do not have enough time. They see their own billings dip off when taking on a new team or when they first beginning their leadership journey. When this is broken down further they feel as if the reason that they do not have enough time is because they feel as if they are constantly being asked questions by their new trainees or consultants and then they feel as if they have to always be keeping an ear out in case a call starts to go awry. From my experience, I can empathise with this way of thinking. Your senior manager has shown some faith in you and given you responsibility for your own team. When you are new to leadership, or any skill as it happens, you become what is known in personal development terms as an ‘Enthusiastic Beginner’. At this stage you are just that, incredibly enthusiastic, and you want to show your manager that you are taking the promotion seriously and that it was the right decision, so you end up doing more ‘managing’ and less ‘consulting’. Having a team of autonomous team members all with the own cognitive ability to think for themselves in the majority of circumstances will give you back your time to focus on your personal billings. In our opinion, this is the only way to scale your business successfully, as this enables you to focus on strategy and your own personal goals.
This process of shared leadership amongst team members is not an overnight thing. Firstly, as the leader of the team you want to have the confidence in the competence of each of the team members to deliver in all aspects of their role. One of the biggest elements of this style of management is trust, however if you do not trust the ability in certain areas then your desire to let go of certain responsibilities is diminished. So, before any wholesale changes to your leadership style is implemented, I would recommend conducting a gap analysis into the key areas of a consultant and see if there are any gaps that need some training. Once you can trust their competencies then the only way that the team are going to be able to develop their autonomy is by having a go at certain situations themselves.
This is still a great opportunity for further training as you can discuss live examples which will make the training more engaging but also resonate more than a dull theory based session. In this situation, you move from being a teacher to being a performance coach. They have the experience now and so rather than telling them what to do, you can pull feedback from them in terms of how they thought it went but also if they had the chance to do it again, would they do anything differently? It is at this point that if there was anything that they were still missing then you can provide your feedback on the call or decision and explaining why you think like that. Involving team members in the process of commercial decisions will help them develop the cognition to then think for themselves the next time they are faced with a similar situation. “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I will remember but involve me and I will understand”. Something to think about when you have the thought that just telling your consultants the answers will save time, it won’t in the long term.
This ability for your team to think through challenges themselves will give you so much of your own time back. People think that just taking 30 seconds to answer a question doesn’t seem like much, however it disrupts your train of thought and so takes time to get back in to the same place you were, up to 2 or 3 minutes depending on what the activity was. If that happens 5 times a day is 17.5 minutes a day, which by Friday is nearly an hour and a half of your week. What would you give to have an extra hour and a half a week to focus on your own billings? It doesn’t seem like much at the time, but it all adds up, as a leader you have to be able to think bigger picture and the big picture is that you are not valuing your own time enough. Think of it like this, if you have a team of 5 people and you are the sole decision maker, this means that your time and knowledge will constantly be divisible by 5. However, if you have a team of 5 who are all autonomous and have been developed to think as if they have your experience, then you will have a team that is you to the power of 5. I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to realise which of these teams are most profitable.
The best teams that we have ever worked with both in business and in sport have been when every member of that team have contributed towards that team game plan. There was clarity in their shared vision and then over time they developed an intuitive approach to decision making; all decisions are therefore made with the best intentions of achieving the team and organisational goals.
It may seem to be a bit farfetched to think that a leader would act completely selflessly and not take any credit for the team glory, however if the team feel as if they have been responsible for achieving their shared goals then this is a fantastic representation of your leadership.
For some of your reading this now, you may be sat there thinking, “I wouldn’t trust some of my team to look after a pet goldfish let alone anything to do with the team game plan that at the end of the day effects my pay packet!”. The thought process of autonomy based leadership should definitely be encouraged however it is done so with a caveat. In order for shared leadership to work it requires a strong, trusted and talented team, in which the recruitment of the ‘right characters’ will be vital as well as their continued development. This will require some ruthless action from you as a leader.
To conclude, any team needs a leader, it needs to have someone to shape the team vision and also drive performance should things ever hit a wall. However, a leader that lacks the ability to give control, is actually stunting the development of their own team as well as interfering with their own potential billings. Invest time in your team and involve them in commercial decisions so that they understand how you would want them to think if faced with similar challenges in the future. Alongside this, gain back the time that you are giving up at the moment being the sole source of cognition in the team. A team that is autonomous is engaged, an engaged team is a happy team and a happy team makes money!