Stay Out of the Circle
Steven Cesare, Ph.D.
A business owner from Minnesota called me the other day to talk about his leadership approach toward his fledgling management team. As a pretext to our discussion, I asked the business owner to describe the strengths and weaknesses of each direct report. Much like the owner himself, the management staff was routinely characterized as “aggressive,” “creative,” “collaborative,” and “gets stuff done.” Beyond those competencies, the owner suggested the managers periodically needed “direction,” “have to be reminded of the big picture,” and “are learning business acumen.”
True to form, the “hands-on” business owner continually revealed his unvarnished predisposition that when an issue or problem presented itself, he would instinctively jump into the ordeal, take charge, lay out the plan, assign specific roles and responsibilities, and then exit the management group, thinking that he had solved problem which allowed his team to move forward.
Sort of “yes.” Sort off “no.”
In response, I simply asked the business owner if every one of his managers could directly recite the overall empirical company goals (e.g., revenue, gross margin, customer retention, employee retention) and the specific empirical goals for his/her division (e.g., maintenance, sales, enhancement, installation) at any given time.
He replied “Yes.”
At that point I told the owner to get a piece of paper and a pencil. Using the pencil, I asked him to draw a circle in the middle of the paper. Then, I asked him to draw a dot maybe an inch or so outside of the circle and put down the pencil.
I said, “We’re done.” To which, he said, “What do you mean “we’re done.’ What the heck is this?”
I informed the business owner that the circle represented his company’s management team, and he was the dot. Prescriptively, I told him to stop being the “answer man” who parachutes into every scenario, provides the solution, and then leaves thinking he did the right thing. Instead, I told him to “Stay out of the Circle.”
Given the skill set of his managers, their proclivity for collaboration, their innate bias for action, their varied arrays of resourcefulness, underscored by a commitment to a results-based team-oriented culture, the business owner must allow them to generate solutions on their own, develop their own critical thinking collectively, and hypothesize plausible contingencies based on potential contextual variance. “They are managers, not disciples.” Let them become a team, not remain a group of followers.
As a business owner, he should only be focused on results, not tactics. He’s already coached them; he has already taught them the goals; he has already role modeled the company culture to them. Now it is time for them to perform, to demonstrate resilience, to adopt the mindset of managerial problem solvers. Now is the time for the business owner, to let them do the job that he is paying them to do.
Stay out of the circle.
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