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Leadership: Stop Bossing, Start Teaching

Leadership: Stop Bossing, Start Teaching

By: John M. Bernard, author of Business at the Speed of Now (Wiley, 2011)

Thousands of theories have come along about the best way to manage and lead people and it would take a whole book to explore all the beliefs and tools effective leaders use to help their people do business at the speed of now. The most important one is shifting from boss to teacher. That shift includes moving:

1. From no to yes. Replace preventing people from doing the wrong thing to helping them figure out for themselves how to do the right thing.

2. From disconnection to full engagement. Replace the assumption that people have connected to the organization’s mission to helping them fully engage in achieving it.

3. From know-it-all to fellow learner. Replace acting like the fount of all knowledge and wisdom to acting like a student yourself.

4. From frozen layer to fear defroster. Replace obstructing people from thinking for themselves to encouraging them to make their own sound decisions.

5. From commander to inspirational guide. Replace telling people what to do with inspiring them to participate in a great achievement.

Replacing no with yes does not mean that from now on you give everyone permission to do whatever they want. You draw clear boundaries to establish order, and you provide language and methods people can use to solve problems. You become an enabler of action rather than an unwitting obstacle to performance.

Cultivating a NOW World of Business
In the “Then” world of command and control, ‘‘no’’ dominates a manager’s vocabulary. But it’s not just the word; it’s the action. Closing doors to avoid interruptions, demanding that people ‘‘put it in writing,’’ using accountability as a tool for punishment, employing body language that tells people ‘‘Don’t bother me unless it’s an emergency,’’ and displaying a demeanor that suggests you do not suffer fools gladly all say no as loudly as if it you had spoken the word.

In a NOW world, yes replaces no in a manager’s vocabulary. ‘‘What do you think about this issue?’’ ‘‘How would you suggest we solve this problem?’’ You also say yes when you remove your door from its hinges, literally or figuratively.

You say yes when you listen with an open mind, when you use accountability as a motivational tool, when you encourage informal interactions with your people, when you let people know you think there’s no such thing as a stupid idea, and when you send all the other nonverbal signals that speak yes as if it had come from your lips.

Words and actions teach. They show instead of tell. They replace a preordained answer with a guiding hand.

1. Remove no and yes from your vocabulary. Few business problems lend themselves to easy black or white solutions. If mailroom clerk Gareth comes to you for a decision about whether or not to absorb the additional cost of shipping an order overnight to an important customer, don’t just state the company policy, help him explore the gray areas where the company should make an exception to that policy.

2. Teach your people to take responsibility for solving problems. When people seek a yes/no answer, they basically shift the responsibility for the outcome to someone else. If you tell Gareth, ‘‘No, we do not pay for overnight shipping on such a small order,’’ then he ducks responsibility when the important customer demands to know why he didn’t make an exception in this case.

3. Answer questions by asking questions. When people ask you questions, ask them questions in return. Answering their question robs them of an opportunity to think for themselves. Rather than stating the company policy when Gareth asks, ‘‘Should we absorb the extra cost of overnight shipping?’’ ask, ‘‘What do you think?’’ Gareth may decide for himself whether or not the order is large enough or the customer important enough to make an exception in this case.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. from Business at the Speed of Now: Fire Up Your People, Thrill Your Customers, and Crush Your Competitors by John M. Bernard.  Copyright (c) 2012 by John M. Bernard LLC.
This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.

Author Bio
John Bernard has been inspiring leaders to rethink how they run their organization for thirty years. An experienced executive, consultant and founder and chairman of Mass Ingenuity over the past twenty years, he has been fine-tuning a system of management that delivers high levels of employee engagement and business results. Bernard has sat in nearly every seat around the leadership table, from founder/CEO of a start-up firm to senior vice president of a multi-billion-dollar financial services company with responsibilities for a workforce of 1000. He resides in Oregon.