Monday, November 28, 2005

Leadership Lesson #4: The Inefficiency Every Leader Must Embrace to Be Successful

Tammy was one of the PTA's most reliable volunteers. So, it was only natural that by the time her oldest child reached the fifth grade, she was unanimously elected Maplecrest School PTA president.

Tammy took the job seriously. She had an ambitious plan for the PTA's program that school year. In September, at the Fall Open House, she made a major pitch for volunteers. An amazing fifty people signed volunteer cards that night!

"I can hardly believe it!" Maplecrest's principal told Tammy. "I've never seen such a great response in thirty years in Education. You're off to a great start!"

Tammy was off to a great start. Unfortunately, things sort of fell apart after that. Tammy blamed the volunteers who didn't follow through on their commitments. While that was the reason some of the volunteers didn't show up when tasks needed doing, the other reason was Tammy herself.

You see, early in the year, when volunteers showed up to perform tasks she could perform blindfolded, Tammy felt as though she spent hours showing others how to do them. "In the time it takes me to get everybody else trained," she told her husband, "I could have the job done three times over. Besides, I kind of like doing some of the jobs myself. They're therapeutic for me." In time, Tammy stopped calling volunteers or accepting their help altogether. The PTA became a one-person show.

Tammy discovered what every person in a leadership position learns: Sometimes, it's easier to do things yourself.

But here's the second thing Tammy never learned (which is why her year as PTA president is remembered as such a disaster): Even if a leader can do every task better than those they are called to lead and even if training others takes longer than it would take the leader to do the task, the leader must resist doing it themselves.

Leaders must accept the temporary inefficiency represented by seemingly lost time spent training others in order to insure the long-term health of their organizations.

This has been one of the most difficult lessons for me to learn as a leader. (And some days I almost remember it!)

Many, if not most tasks that leaders might assign others to do will be ones that they can perform better and more quickly. But unless the leader takes the time to train others, the leader won't be freed to do other things, things that will help their organization thrive and grow.

In volunteer organizations, like PTAs, youth service agencies, and churches, taking the time to train others to do things expands the base of ownership in the mission of the organization and it increases the overall capacity of the organization to fulfill its mission. People feel more a part of things when leaders trust them to do things...even to be slow or to make mistakes!

I once heard leadership guru John Maxwell say that leaders multiply their organizations by initiating a simple three-step training process. First: They allow others to watch them do the task at hand. Second: They watch while others do the same task and later, offer them feedback. Third: They hand the task off to the folks they've trained along with the mandate of undertaking the same process with another person.

When you think about it, this is simply a variation on the process that was used by Jesus with the unlikely crew He recruited to carry on His work following His death and resurrection. First: They traveled with Him for several years, observing Him as He taught and served others. Second: He sent them out in groups of two to replicate His ministry, the partners able to provide feedback and support to one another. Third: They came back and Jesus took them away on retreat to reflect on their experiences. Just before the risen Jesus ascended to heaven, He told the remnants of this group to keep this three-point program going. "While you're moving through the world," He told them, "make disciples." (Of course, Jesus-Followers have the added benefit of knowing that their efforts, even if imbued with little native talent, are maximized by the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives!)

Training others to do what you know you can already do better will take time. But it is the inefficiency you must accept in order for your organization to succeed.

[Next installment: The Hardest Thing for Me to Do As a Leader]

[Previous installments in this series:
The First Thing Every True Leader Must Be
The Most Overrated Attribute of Leaders
The First Thing Every Leader Must Do]


"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Well said, Mark.
It is so hard for everyone to delegate work without delegating responsibility. Teaching people to trust those they train to do well for them, remind those young leaders that they had to be trusted once and getting them to believe is not easy. We not only want to do it ourselves. We fear other will do it wrong and somehow we'll be blamed. It's sad really that trust and belief in forgiveness are in such short supply. That'w why leaders have to have more trust and more forgiveness than anyone all of the time, just as Jesus did.

Mark Daniels said...

Good observations, Liz. Thank you for continuing to be such a faithful reader here and for your comments!