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How do we lead our people in our businesses? Ryan Phelan shares his thoughts
I was flipping through TV channels looking for something to distract myself from the world for a while, and there it was: One of my favorite movies of all time was playing: "Apollo 13," with Tom Hanks. It's one of those movies, like "Spaceballs" or "Starship Troopers," that I've seen at least 20 times but watch every time I encounter it.
This time, as I watched, I realized the familiar scenes had taken on a different meaning, especially the one below. Take a couple minutes out of your day to view it:
You can see how the dialogue and action are centered on getting the crippled spaceship back to earth. One of the Mission Control guys comes up with a potential solution and lays it all out in plain language. His coworkers shoot down his idea, but the director looks right at him, thinks about what he said, and replies, "Okay."
It made me think: How do we lead our people in our businesses?
Leadership isn't all about control
So many times in business, and what I see when I'm working with young entrepreneurs, is that we try to second-guess everybody. We've got so much on the line that we want to control everything, and that's highly inefficient.
We hire people because they are smarter than we are in specific disciplines or jobs. We should trust them to do the work, especially if they're in leadership positions.
But, unlike the situation in "Apollo 13," all too often we turn around and second-guess the very people we put into these trusted positions. We doubt their decisions and try to solve problems for ourselves.
This is a tremendous waste of time.
Why trust matters
In a startup environment, you don't have that time to waste. Every person you hire must be someone you can trust to give you thoughtful recommendations that you can accept and act on.
It doesn't mean you can't ask questions or press for more information. But, a smart business owner puts knows when to take a leap of faith.
So, how can you feel as much in command of your office forces as Gene Kranz, the cool, calm and collected mission Ed Harris plays in "Apollo 13?" Here are three things to do:
- Evaluate how you conduct your hiring process: How well do you get along with the candidates you interview? Do they exude confidence or cockiness? Do they do their research, and have they proved their worth with previous successes?
Study how they make decisions. Do you understand their process? Do they go with their gut feelings, use data to evaluate their options or see which way the wind is blowing?
If you're comfortable with how they make decisions, then accepting their recommendations will be easier for you.
2. If you don't know, ask. I see too many leaders who just make up answers when confronted with situations that are out of their depth. They rely on overly simplified, unrealistic solutions.
If you don't know the answer to a question or don't have an immediate solution to a problem, admit it and then trust the person who gives you the answer. Ask questions so you understand where the answers come from, and then let that person get down to work.
- If you can't trust your people, get into another line of work. No CEO can be effective doing every job and knowing everything. The most effective CEOs know they need topline information. The minutiae is not as important. Every minute you spend doing someone else's work is a minute lost to doing your job leading your company.
If you can't let your people lead, if you can't take the time to trust their opinions, it's time to rethink your management style or your place in your business.
Being a successful mission commander doesn't mean you don't get to ask questions. Saying "Walk me through your decision" is an act of humility and a trait of great leaders. The ineffective ones bluff their way through. They don't say "Help me understand."
Not every decision will be right. But, if you trust your process, then you trust that the decisions your executives make as the ones you, yourself, would make.
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