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Step Back and Let Success... or Failure... Happen

Creating engagement requires learning to step back and allow success or failure to happen. It’s a two-fold challenge. We find it difficult, if not impossible, to step back, because we are afraid to risk failure. But, we believe there’s an even greater risk in failing to engage our people. Clearly, engagement does not happen unless we first set the stage: start with trustworthy people, set clear expectations with timelines, provide training and resources, ask for commitment, and step back.

Impact on the Team

When we feel trusted and choose to extend trust to others, everyone on the team benefits. Research proves that people like to know what is expected of them, but then they want us to get out of the way and let them figure out how to do it. When we chart our own course, we are always more motivated, committed, energized, and passionate – in short, more engaged. Engaged people achieve outstanding results for their team.

Impact on the Organization

Too many of us try to be successful by doing the work ourselves and therefore miss important opportunities to prepare our direct reports for success. We work down in the “grey areas” between ourselves and our people. Working in our subordinates’ grey areas cascades down through an entire department or organization. On the other hand, if we try to work up into our manager’s grey area, we can reverse the trend. We set the performance bar higher for our self and others, stretch, learn, and grow. Everyone benefits.

Impact on the Individual

Think about the message we send when we constantly intervene and micro-manage people – I don’t trust you. When we don’t feel trusted, we don’t extend trust to others, so the problem compounds. This naturally leads to communication problems. Everyone suffers. When leaders are able to step back and allow success or failure to happen, people grow both personally and professionally. They feel trusted, respected, and confident, and will always work harder.

Impact on the Leader

It is extremely difficult for most of us to step back and trust others to do the right thing in the right way, especially the first time we try. It doesn’t come naturally. We need to develop the skills, practice them regularly, and turn them into habits. It’s like exercising a muscle that gets stronger every time we use it. When we step back, we increase our own productivity, so we have more time to deal with our other challenges. But perhaps most important, we see and feel the tangible fruits of our labor. We can build an actively engaged, high- performing team…and we feel liberated.

To encourage our leaders to step back, and allow success or failure to happen, we must stop punishing people for making mistakes or failing to meet their commitments. We must encourage and support their taking “healthy” risks, not just achieving successful outcomes, and help people learn from their mistakes.

If someone fails, we should always first ask ourselves whether we have set clear expectations and defined success. If we honestly believe we have communicated clearly, then it is essential that we hold the person accountable and coach to ensure that learning takes place, so mistakes are not repeated. We must always remember to actively encourage desired behaviors and give positive reinforcement. This is the key to having a culture of actively engaged people.

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