Leadership Lessons Learned the Hard Way; Part I – Know when to get out of the way!

Several years ago, I found myself on a team that was in the clutches of a controlling and overbearing project leader who quickly sapped the team of all its creativity and enthusiasm. I then began to systematically scribble notes to myself on all the things I would never do when I became a project leader myself. It tooks a few years of applying what I collected back then, to understand what it takes! (And I have to believe that poor project leader, who seemed doomed to failure, has learned from those mistakes also.)

There is lots of advice out there on how to become a good leader, but I’ve found a GREAT leader is one who paves the way, and then gets out of the way! It’s not an earth-shattering thought, but surprisingly, rare in practice.

Self-managing teams are nimble and highly successful as a unit. They only rely on their management structure to stand by them when they take risks, and to remove obstacles.

Paving the way:

– Set up some basic protocol, and work together with your team to setup basic project templates and guidelines. This structure will help you stay connected with project information so, if your team is sinking and asking for help, you have the information and resources available to support them (Did someone say risk management?).

– And, most importantly, stay flexible and open to new ideas on how to improve this setup so it doesn’t die a slow painful death.

Getting out of the way:

Now that you’ve paved the way for your teams to work, get out of their way and let them work! Give them the freedom to succeed and fail, and to learn from their mistakes, so your people can evolve and become good leaders themselves. Don’t make yourself a bottleneck for non-critical tasks.  Too much red tape is a productivity killer like nothing else. Step in when your team is gasping for air, and then step away when they have the oxygen they need, so you’re part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Know when to lead and know when to get out of the way! Yeah, that’s a lesson I learned the hard way. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you have applied this in your own areas of expertise and how much success you’ve seen.


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