Leaders: Get Out Of The Way

Lead, Follow AND Get Out of The Way!  The famous bumper sticker actually reads Lead, Follow OR Get Out of The Way.  But, for leaders the proper statement needs the AND instead of the OR.

For most people placed into leadership the call to lead is obvious.  This is a no-brainer.  A teacher’s job is to teach.  A saleperson’s job is to sell.  Also no-brainers.

But, what about following or even more confusing…getting out of the way? 

Get Out Of The Way

I believe both are critical.  Most of us are required to be a follower before we lead.  No matter where we are on the org chart, we always answer to someone.  Even CEO’s answer to their board of directors.

Getting out of the way, however is not as obvious.

Getting In The Way

Too many leaders become the primary obstacle to progress for their organizations.  Many of them make too many decisions.  They hold onto power by making decisions that belong to the people below them.

For some leaders this stems from insecurity.  They are ruled by the fear of someone making a mistake.  For them, the word mistake is a four letter word.

For other leaders making decisions for others is a result of an overactive ego.  Their pride prevents them from releasing control to others.  They believe they have the best answers to every problem.  Therefore, they force everything through their office.

As a result, the leader becomes a bottleneck.  The people below them are either unable or unwilling to take the initiative needed to move the organization forward.

Because mistakes are forbidden by the insecure leader, the people below them have little experience making decisions.  Wisdom comes through failure.  Without the opportunity to fail, even the most intelligent people will not get any wiser.

The pride side of the coin makes people unwilling to step out.  They are unwilling because they know a decision made without the leader’s input will result in second guessing or worse a reprimand.

Either way, these are organizations where initiative goes to die.  The death of initiative is the direct result of a leader who consistently gets in the way of the people they lead.

3 Steps For Getting Out Of The Way

Leaders, if we are leading teams that lack initiative, the first place we need to look is in the mirror.  The lack of initiative is a cultural issue.  The only person responsible for the culture of an organization is the leader.

Here are 3 steps for getting out of the way and building a new culture where initiative rules.

  1. Apologize Immediately:  The only way to begin this process is to begin by admitting my mistakes.  “Guys.  I’ve been holding on too tight.  I’ve been unwilling to let you do the jobs I hired you to do.  If you could forgive me for letting my ego and my insecurities get in your way, I’m going to try something new for me.”
  2. Surrender Control:  As a leader I must focus on the areas only I am able to do.  If someone else should be making the decision, then I must let them.  “You are capable of making many of the decisions I have been holding onto.  The day to day stuff is now yours.  I am here if you need advice, but I no longer expect you to clear the day to day stuff through me.”
  3. Encourage Mistakes:  As long as no one dies or goes to jail, then I need to be okay with mistakes.  I also need to do a 180 and begin chastising people for not making mistakes.  “From now on if you are not making mistakes, I won’t think you are trying.  Make mistakes, learn from them.  Then be better the next time.  That is the type of team I want us to be from now on.”

These steps may seem radical, but changing a culture often calls for a radical solution.  As a leader, getting out of the way is not going to be easy.

The Bottom Line:

Leaders lead change and managers manage the status quo.  I have a choice.  Be a manager and keep stifling my people by getting in the way.  Or, be a leader, change my habits, and get the hell out of the way.

Leaders need to lead.  Leaders need to follow.  And leaders need to get out of the way.  If I consider myself a leader, I must discipline myself to do all three.  Take the OR out of that old bumper sticker saying and replace it with AND:

Lead, Follow, AND Get Out Of The Way!


Who else should be making the decisions you are currently making?

2 Responses to “Leaders: Get Out Of The Way”

  1. Troy Busby November 12, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

    So true Dave.

    I appreciate your emphasis on the Golden Rule — Ego and insecurity can stifle initiative. Good leaders set conditions to let their talented workforce make the organization be as successful as possible. I think uncertainty in the larger economy makes this much easier said than done. The organizational leader must constantly balance organizational capability and workforce initiative against some larger economic environment realities that actually reward the status quo versus riskier ventures.

    • Dave Anderson November 13, 2012 at 6:11 am #

      Unfortunately, the best time to take the riskier venture is when circumstances are not good. But too many leaders will over analyze the venture and the opportunity will pass.

      As you said, the people who uphold the status quo will often be rewarded in these cases.

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